A week after the magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami which ravaged northeast Japan, the pro riders of the country say they want to race in remembrance of the tragedy.
Europcar’s Yukiha Arashiro explained that Japanese cycling fans were touched by the victory of his team-mate Thomas Voeckler, Sunday, in the final stage of Paris-Nice. “My squad is now popular in the country,” he told Cyclingnews. “I would like to ride the Tour de France like I did the last two years, and win a stage to pay a tribute to the victims”. Arashiro was 5th on stage 2 in 2009 and 6th on stage 11 last year.
Aisan Racing Team, one of the five Japanese Continental structures, was racing the Jelajah Malaysia when the disaster happened. “The shocking news left us confused but we decided to continue the race,” team manager Takumi Beppu said. “We thought in this way we could show our courage and blessings to all in Japan, including the victims of disaster.”
Beppu added that he hopes his team will be ranked first in the UCI Asia Tour this year and claim as many successes as possible, “not only for us, but also for the victims.”
Beppu’s brother, Fumiyuki, a professional rider with RadioShack, dedicated a message to his countrymen, “You are NOT alone,” and asked some riders to spread it on Twitter.
A number of them mentioned the Japanese disaster, notably Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek), who wrote on Friday: “Let's all have some thoughts [about] what happened in Japan. Sorry but in these times everybody should realize that our problems are getting very small.”
Kiwi Greg Henderson (Sky) recalled that another earthquake killed at least 166 people in his country on February 22: “It's the last week to bid and help out New Zealand. Our next auction will be to help the victims in Japan.”
Last Saturday, the European peloton observed a minute of silence on Tirreno-Adriatico, before the start of stage 4. Fumiyuki Beppu stood a few metres ahead the others, with his eyes closed.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) told Gazzetta dello Sport: “It’s an incredible tragedy and hurts us all. We wanted to offer our support just as they helped us when we had an earthquake in L’Aquila”.
In 2009, 308 people died after an earthquake hit the Italian city. One year afterwards, L’Aquila hosted the finish of stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia, and some teams paid a special tribute through donations.
A number of riders competing at Saturday's Milan-San Remo will auction their jersey after the event in order to raise money for the victims in Japan. Basso, Japanese champion Takashi Miyazawa (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek), Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) are among the riders whose jersey will be on auction on www.all1sport.com.
According to the latest reports, 6,500 people have been found dead with a further 10,000 people still missing. More than 550,000 people have been evacuated or are homeless. The economic cost of the tragedy should be between 125 and 200 billion dollars.
All aspects of daily life have been affected by the disaster. In football, J-League matches are delayed until the end of the month, and it’s the same scenario for the keirin series, according to the official website. After March 31, organisers will make an announcement on the calendar, but some of the 20 Japanese velodromes will have been damaged by the earthquake.
However, 2009 world championship silver medallist François Pervis of France still plans to ride some keirin events after April 18. “The only one reason that would stop me from doing so would be the hypotheses of a big nuclear disaster,” he told rmc.fr.
The Tour of Japan, a 2.1 race scheduled from May 15-22, is uncertain although the UCI said that is had heard no news from the organisation.
“Most of the domestic races are cancelled,” said Keisuke Miyazaki, a member of the Continental team Bridgestone Anchor. “Moreover, the problem of radiation poisoning from the nuclear plant cannot be disregarded.” Damaged by the earthquake and the subsequent fires, the Fukushima Daichii nuclear complex is emitting a very dangerous radiation level in Japan.