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Update in the Life of Simon van Velthooven



Japan – 2013 Season

To preview – a short video of me racing in Black last season.
After a short flight from Auckland to Narita and then a 6 hour bus ride into the mountains here at the Keirin School, I am in good spirits to be back here learning ‘how to race’ even though it is for 10 days and the schooling starts at 8.30am and finishes at 5pm!  This is my third time in the lucrative and ludicrous Keirin league and I am just as excited to race as I was first time round in 2010. It is still an honour to be asked as one of the 6 international riders and first Kiwi to come and race the 2500 registered domestic riders.



Simon van Velthooven

Good Morning Team from Keirin School in Japan


During our time at school we learn all the rules and regulations about the racing. Such as when you can pass the pacer, how long you can go underneath various lines, when it is possible for you to walk to the finish line if you crash, and what the correct thing to say when you crash to officials. Another rule we learn is how to knock some one off cleanly and continue racing, and knocking some one off dirty and getting disqualified and sent home…

Japan has around 50 different tracks we race on all over the country and we are all very accustomed to the Shinkansen’s and small commuter trains because we cannot use a car to drive anywhere!

The most common track we race on is 400m in length but we also race on 333m and 500m tracks. The race is over 2000m with 3 and a half laps behind a pacer which drops us on at 1 and a half laps to go at around 35kph. We have to make sure we time our sprint perfectly because if you go too early your legs will blow up and if you leave it too late the other riders will do their best to ‘stop’ you from passing with brute force using their heads and elbows.

If you do not follow the pacer from the start when you are first out of the gate you will be penalized, disqualified, and sent to a ‘re-hab’ temple in Kyoto for 6 days to meditate and review why you are being a bad rider.

After every race the winner must shout all his competitors a ‘Pocari Sweat’ which is a sugary sports drink, one of the kind things learn to do in this culture and hopefully I will hold on to the values for latter life. A free sports drink after loosing a hard race is exactly what you need!
Here’s a quick read of a great article summarising the Keirin experience from 2012 and the official Keirin website for further interest –


Typical Race

altThe Keirin race in Japan begins with us presenting our ‘tactics’ 40 minutes before the start of our race and after this presentation, we sit in a room fully kitted up eye balling each other. After bowing to the crowd we enter the track again and position the bikes for the start of the race. Every participant is assigned a number and a colour for identification and betting purposes.  At the sound of the gun, we leave the starting blocks and attempt to gain position behind the pacer, a designated rider wearing purple with orange stripes. As the pace quickens, the pacer will usually depart the track with between one and two laps remaining, but the actual location where the pacer leaves varies with every race.

With 11⁄2 laps remaining, officials begin sounding a massive gong, increasing in frequency until the bicyclists come around to begin the final lap of the race.  The race is monitored by four referees, each located in a tower next to one of the four turns- each corner. After every race, each referee will wave either a white or red flag. A white flag indicates that no infractions occurred in that area. A red flag, however, signals a possible infraction and launches an inquiry into the race.

Since its a betting sport everything is policed and monitored so no punter will get upset about the outcomes of the races. We have to become very disciplined people because you may not think it is right, but since you are a guest in their country you must just go with the flow and accept it as it comes. The best answer is a nod and smile!

My first two race assignments are Keiokaku in Tokyo coming up on the 30th and Toride near Fukishima.

I am looking forward to them and I will complete my next newsletter once I was have some good stories and tales to share about them!

Kind Regards – The Rhino

BikeNZ Sprint Cycling Team
World, Commonwealth and Olympic games medallist
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