By Miwako Sasaki
The 9th edition of the Tour of Japan, a 2.2 race on the UCI's new Asia Tour (2.2), will run from May 15-22. Three of the six stages are renewed, including an individual time trial on Mount Fuji, and only two stages will suited to the sprinters (Stage 1 and Stage 6). The race will thus be hillier and harder, even though the total distance has been reduced to 732.55km.
The first new stage will be held on May 18 in South-Shinshu, the mountainous middle part of Japan, and the course consists of 12 laps of a hilly circuit. The most important stage will be an individual time trial on Mount Fuji on May 20, and the riders must climb 11.4km, from 800m to 2000m. Before the finish in Tokyo, there will be also a new mountain stage in Izu.
A total of 16 teams of six riders will start on Sunday, including last year's winner Shinichi Fukushima (Team Bridgestone Anchor). His younger brother and teammate, Koji Fukushima will be also an important rider for the race. Koji is called the "Asian Jacky Durand" by the French media, as he finished fourth in the Trophée des Grimpeurs on May 1 after a long breakaway, and he was second on GC in the Circuit de Lorraine (April 27-30) as a result of a breakaway in the first stage, where he finished third. Koji has had an excellent season this year, he also won a stage of the Tour de Langkawi and wore the leader's jersey for five days.
Eight foreign teams will come to Japan, including Team Barloworld - Valsir (Felix Cardenas, Matteo Carrara and David Plaza), Team Konica Minolta (James Perry). Kazakh Cycling Team Capec will be also important team for the race, including ex-Telekom rider Andrey Mizourov.
Stage 1 - May 15: Senboku Circuit, Sakai City (Osaka), 140.8km
Stage 2 - May 16: Todaiji Temple - Nunome Dam Circuit, Nara, 146.2km
Rest day - May 17
Stage 3 - May 18: Iida Station - Shimohisakata Circuit - Matsuo Stadium, South-Shinshu, 155.3km
Rest day - May 19
Stage 4 - May 20: Mount Fuji ITT, 11.4km
Stage 5 - May 21: Japan Cycle Sports Center - Japan Cycle Sports Center, Izu 130.35km
Stage 6 - May 22: Hibiya city - Ooi Wharf Circuit, Tokyo, 138.5km
Aisan ind. Racing Team, Australian National Team (Sutton, Sanderson, Goss, Clarke, Rex, Meadley), Casino Filipino - Pro Cycling Team, Cycling Team Capec (Mizurov, Wacker, Baigdinov), Kinan CCD, Miyata - Subaru, Nakagawa AS K'Design, Nalsima Frend, Purapharm (Kam Po Wong), Shimano - Memory Corp (Abe, Kano, Nodera, Hirose, Ouchi Tuji), Sumita Ravanello Pearl Izumi, Team Barloworld - Valsir (Cardenas, Carrara, Celli, Serri, Plaza, Cheura), Team Bridgestone Anchor (Shinichi and Koji Fukushima, Suzuki, Tashiro), Team Konica Minolta (Perry), Team Nippo (Ribolzi, Wiesiak, Manabe, Okazaki), Wismilak International Team (Susanto, McKenzie, Bradford, Thuaux).