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Where EAST meets the Northwest

COMPETITIVE CYCLIST. Japanís Yukiya Arashiro celebrates on the podium after being awarded the prize for best combative rider during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 118.1 miles with the start in Arpajon-sur-Cere and finish in Montauban, France, on July 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #15 (August 1, 2016), page 7.

Japanís leading cyclist races in his seventh Tour de France

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

In recent years, the focus of the Tour de France has been either on the frontrunners or the cheaters, but Asian cycling fans have been cheering for Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro since 2009. In 2016, Arashiro participated in his seventh Tour de France, showing his strength during one breakaway stage and overcoming a gruesome injury sustained earlier in the year to post a very strong finish.

Arashiro entered the cycling scene in a rather improbable fashion at 18 years old in 2002. An avid handball player, he had never participated in competitive cycling, but a family friend who was competing in France inspired him.

Arashiro followed his friend to France to begin racing competitively. "I never even saw the Tour de France on television until I arrived in France, and I didnít know how it worked," he said later. "Initially, I just wanted to make it to the finish of races." In the more competitive world of French cycling, Arashiro soon began to excel.

In 2005, he won two under-23 championships in Japan: the National Time Trial and the Road Race Championships. After graduating from the junior circuit, he won Japanís National Road Race Championships in 2007, a performance he repeated in 2013.

Arashiroís career began to really take off in 2008, when he finished third overall in the Tour du Limousin, winning the raceís second stage. This was his first stage victory and best finish in an HC (Hors díCategorie) race. HC races are one level below the top-level Grand Tour, which comprises the three most famous cycling races: the Tour de France, Giro díItalia, and the Vuelta a EspaŮa.

In addition to his performance at the Tour du Limousin, Arashiro won both the Tour de Okinawa and the Tour de Kumano. This breakthrough year led to an invitation to ride in the 2009 season with the Bouygues Telecom team, who selected him to ride in his first Tour de France.

That year, Arashiro became the first Japanese cyclist to finish the Tour de France, crossing the finish line in 126th place, ahead of countryman Fumiyuku Beppo. In 2010, Arashiro stood alone as the first Japanese cyclist to finish two Grand Tour events after completing the Giro díItalia. In that race, he led a breakaway in the fifth stage, nearly earning his first Grand Tour stage victory. Arashiro also finished ninth at the world road race championships in Melbourne, the first top-ten finish for a Japanese cyclist in that event. Arashiro capped that excellent season by placing 112th in his second Tour de France, improving on his performance from the year before.

After securing the Asian Championship in 2011, Arashiro established another landmark in 2012. His win in the 2012 Tour du Limousin was the first HC victory by a Japanese cyclist, establishing Arashiro among the top echelon of international cyclists.

That year, Arashiro also competed in his fourth Tour de France, establishing new standards for himself and his country. In the second stage, he finished in fifth place after a mad sprint to the finish, the closest heíd ever come to winning a Grand Tour stage.

His fourth-stage breakaway earned him the red jersey for being that stageís most combative rider. He finished in 84th place, the best performance ever by a Japanese rider in the Tour de France. After the race, he said, "For me, the most important thing every season is to ride the Tour."

In 2013, the year Arashiro repeated as Japanís road race champion, he won second place at the Tour de Limousin and finished 99th in his fifth Tour de France. He improved that result in 2014 by winning 65th place, a year when he also finished the Giro díItalia for the second time.

Arashiro showed his resilience in 2015, as he broke his shoulder in a wreck during a race in Liege, Belgium. He could not participate in the Tour de France, but six months later, Arashiro completed the Vuelta a EspaŮa. This made him the first Japanese cyclist to finish all three Grand Tour events. Even better, he did so in 65th place; a month later, he also took third in the Japan Cup.

Prior to this season, perhaps because of his grit, Arashiro was signed by the Italian team Lampre-Merida, who cited his trailblazing ways as well as his performance record. In his inaugural race with the team, Arashiro took second place at the Asian Cycling championships. Less than a month later, however, he went down in a wreck in the final stage of the Tour of Qatar, this time breaking his left femur.

But Arashiro kept his fitness up and proved his health at the Tour of Japan four months later, leading a breakaway at the end of the seventh stage for his first stage win since his 2013 victory. A month after that, he raced in his seventh Tour de France, once again displaying his grit and sprinting ability.

In the sixth stage, Arashiro led a breakaway after just three kilometers, pulling away from the pack with one other rider for 165 kilometers. They built a lead of more than five minutes before the peloton overtook them. For his aggressive riding, Arashiro won the red jersey for the second time at the Tour de France. He said later, "Iím pleased that I received the award as most combative rider, itís a prize for the determination I had to promote the breakaway Ö Today I add another beautiful moment."

In the end, Arashiro was unable to keep up the pace heíd maintained in earlier Tours, but considering his injury in February, his performance was nonetheless impressive. After slipping back to 140th place in the middle stages, Arashiro improved down the stretch to finish in 116th place. Next season, if he can stay healthy, look for Arashiro to set even more Asian records on the international cycling scene.

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