The Saitama Criterium takes place on Saturday and, as has been the case since the event launched in 2013, riders were encouraged to broaden their cultural horizons with a taste of traditional Japanese customs on the eve of the race.
The event is organised by Tour de France organisers ASO in an attempt to export that great sporting tradition to a growing market in the far east, and they kept up the two-way cultural exchange on Friday. Chris Froome‘s skeletal frame crouched before a 20-stone sumo wrestler in 2013 is an image that will struggle to be forgotten by many, but this time the riders took on activities in more dignified attire.
On Friday morning they went to a school in Saitama to watch a Japanese harp performance followed by a Japanese archery display. After a demonstration from three local students, Froome, John Degenkolb, Romain Bardet, and Joaquim Rodriguez stepped up to give it a go, clad in Japanese dress and Tour-themed headbands.
Degenkolb was the only rider of the four not to win a stage at this year’s Tour, but he comfortably got the better of his adversaries with bow and arrow in hand, hitting the target with each of his three attempts. Froome and Bardet weren’t as quick to get the hang of it but did register a score, while Rodriguez missed with all three arrows and had to be given a fourth chance, whereupon he jokingly took aim at the gathered media.
The riders later visited the railway museum in Saitama, where they had the chance to take a seat in the first ever high speed train ever produced.
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