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Interview: Takashi Tsukamoto
by Jon Carr

A leftfield interview this one, bit like a Johnny Damon of the Boston Red Sox slugging one way out into the stands to end the hex that hung over the Red Sox since they sold the legendary Babe Ruth to their great rivals the New York Yankees in 1920.

A similar rivalry exists between two of the biggest teams (Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes) in what is regarded as the worldwide centre of amateur baseball, Japan. With the big Japanese baseball stars such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui moving to play in the big leagues, much like Mio Suemasa has done in DH & 4X.

But does the Japanese DH & 4X scene have a Hideo Nomo*, someone who has been, seen and done it and got the t-shirt?

Well it does…

Takashi Tsukamoto, not a massive worldwide recognised name but Takashi is one of the most successful Japanese DH & 4X riders of all time, six times Japanese national championship winner, five on bounce from '96 to 2000. Three time Asian championship conference winner in '97 and back to back in ‘02/’03.

What about success on the big stage, I hear you ask…

How about a 5th place in Dual at the '98 Stellenbosch world cup?

A year earlier at the Harrisonburg world cup downhill in the US, Watson, Palmer, King, Bailey, March, McCarroll, Pascal, Longden, Cullinan, Peters, Shandro and Cyril Lagneau couldn’t get down the hill quicker.

While back on home turf in 2000 at the Arai world cup dual Takashi shoved past Minnaar, Tricker, Marosi, Meyenborg, Tomac and Caluori on route to 17th. In the downhill he finished 26th beating… Berchtold, Tomac, Houseman, Beaumont, Pascal and Oulego Moreno, to put that in perspective the top 20 was a who’s who of DH… Vouilloz, Peat, Peters, Vazquez, De Bever, Voreis, Saiz, Gracia, Barel, Lundman, Carter, Minnaar, McCarroll, Herin, Beneke, the Misser brothers, Caluori, Ponting and Carrick-Anderson made up the top 20 with Miles Rockwell and Mike King finishing outside of the 20!

The next year he scored a 14th in dual at the Kaprun world cup, eliminating Marosi, Amour, McCarroll, Minnaar and Klausmann.

We’re Going to have to start with the most obvious topic first, Honda as it’s been their year in terms of media hype.

Descent World: Do you think that the entry of Honda into the world of DH will benefit the sport?

Takashi Tsukamoto: Yes. Although it is little-by-little, it is reported to the general public through the media.

DW: The RN01 has been raced on the Japanese national circuit for a while now, so how do you think it compares to a ‘normal’ DH bike?

TT: I think that it is geometry considered very much. I think that structure is simple and is the same performance as other bikes.

DW: Have the results of the RN01 in the Japanese nationals been down to the RN01 being better than a ‘normal’ DH bike or Naoki Idegawa’s riding skills?

TT: I don’t know. It seems that gearbox of the bike is incomplete… Trouble was caused in some of the races last year.

DW: As HRC are now running the G Cross project, getting information on the bikes has been very hard, especially the gear box, do you know how it works?

TT: It seems that it has repeatedly changed from the first type of two years ago. The thing of the beginning of two years ago seemed to be the oil pressure system. It is now visible like a simple system. It is said that inside is equipped with Shimano XTR. Although this is a joke.

DW: In the Descent World forum, it seems that everyone and their mother had a view on the way the RN01 looks, ugly or beautiful?

TT: Beautiful.

DW: UCI World Cup circus hasn’t visited Japan for a while, so how is the Japanese scene at the moment?

TT: Downhill race scene has hung low for 2 or 3 years. But series race of 4X called SMX – ‘Super Mountain bike Cross’ (www.supermtbx.com) began from last year, riders are enjoying themselves. Wade (Bootes) came to the race and the spectators were excited very much like at the time of Arai. Japanese riders expect that a rider will come from overseas (Sam Hill braved typhoons and earthquakes to race this year.).

DW: Is the Japanese cycling federation supportive of the scene or are they, like many other cycling federations, not really interested in DH/4X etc?

TT: It seems that a federation of Japan is not so cooperative with development although the federation of other countries does not know how it is.

DW: Has the loss of the Arai World Cup improved things or do you think that people have lost interest in the sport/scene in Japan?

TT: Lost.

DW: Can you see a time that Japan will host a World Cup again or the World Championships?

TT: I hope so. There are many good mountains besides Arai in Japan. The problem will be money…

DW: Any favourite riding spots that we should check out if we visited Japan other than Arai?

TT: The downhill field called Fujimi panorama in Nagano Prefecture is fun.

DW: Now that a huge corporation like Honda has been involved in DH in Japan for some time do you think that more large Japanese corporations may get involved?

TT: A big company called KYB suspension and Akebono Brake are involved now. However, a relation will not spread, unless racing is recognized in Japan.

DW: Is it frustrating having to travel so far now to race at the World Cups / NOBRA or other International races?

TT: Yes. Japanese people have to take an airplane, in order to go to a foreign country. 9 hours to L.A. 13 hours to Europe. It sucks.

DW: Do you think that this restricts Japanese riders in making the jump from the top of the national championship to the World Cup / NOBRA circuit?

TT: That is absolutely right. Although there are some courses in Japan, there is no course of World Cup level. There are no big jumps and big drops in a course in Japan. We do just spin like a man on the diet machine of a gym.

DW: When you do travel, how do you find things, as the food, language, culture, money etc is quite different from Japan?

TT: Language is a big problem for me. Even now I’m using a translation machine. I hope that everybody speaks Japanese.

DW: Is there anyone at the moment you feel will make the jump from the Japanese scene to the World Cup / NOBRA circuit?

TT: Some teenage riders have been growing. I think that a rider like Mio (Suemasa) is born someday.

DW: Any thank you’s or shout outs?

TT: Thank you for asking me and Sayonara!

Big thanks to Takashi for taking the time to do this interview.

Make sure to check out his site www.tsuka-channel.com for more info, plus there’s a fair few photos and movies on there if you want to check out what the riding in Japan is like.

*Hideo Nomo was the first Japanese baseball player in 30 years to play in the major US baseball league and was the NL's rookie-of-the year in ‘95.

 
 
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