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Ninjas, Samurais and eel catching - Saitama Criterium Gallery

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Warren Barguil, Greg van Avermaet, Chris Froome and Marcel Kittel

Warren Barguil, Greg van Avermaet, Chris Froome and Marcel Kittel (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome gets into the spirit of things at the Saitama Criterium

Chris Froome gets into the spirit of things at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish rides on stage

Mark Cavendish rides on stage (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg van Avermaet talks on stage at the team presentation

Greg van Avermaet talks on stage at the team presentation (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The Marcel Kittel fans were out on force

The Marcel Kittel fans were out on force (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors)

Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel in his last race with Quick-Step Floors

Marcel Kittel in his last race with Quick-Step Floors (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Rigoberto Uran waves to the crowd

Rigoberto Uran waves to the crowd (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Simon Clarke presents his Cannondale-Drapac teammates

Simon Clarke presents his Cannondale-Drapac teammates (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo)

Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Nathan Haas and Mark Cavendish cook the eel

Nathan Haas and Mark Cavendish cook the eel (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Rigoberto Uran

Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Rigoberto Uran (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome throws a ninja star

Chris Froome throws a ninja star (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg van Avermaet takes aim

Greg van Avermaet takes aim (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data teammates

Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data teammates (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Chris Froome (Team Sky) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome and his teammates eat some of the eel

Chris Froome and his teammates eat some of the eel (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Yukiya Arashiro throws a ninja star

Yukiya Arashiro throws a ninja star (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Simon Clarke tries his hand at ninja stars

Simon Clarke tries his hand at ninja stars (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Nathan Haas seems confident of his ninja star skills

Nathan Haas seems confident of his ninja star skills (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome (Team Sky) in his yellow ninja attire

Chris Froome (Team Sky) in his yellow ninja attire (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg van Avermaet and Chris Froome cross swords

Greg van Avermaet and Chris Froome cross swords (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Warren Barguil was the polka-dot Samurai

Warren Barguil was the polka-dot Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish grabs the live eel

Mark Cavendish grabs the live eel (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish signs autographs with the huge crowd

Mark Cavendish signs autographs with the huge crowd (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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A serious looking Greg van Avermaet Samurai

A serious looking Greg van Avermaet Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Team Sky at the team presentation

Team Sky at the team presentation (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome and Greg van Avermaet have some end of season fun

Chris Froome and Greg van Avermaet have some end of season fun (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome hits the target with a ninja star

Chris Froome hits the target with a ninja star (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg van Avermaet the black Samurai

Greg van Avermaet the black Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg van Avermaet with his BMC team on stage

Greg van Avermaet with his BMC team on stage (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The Dimension Data riders on stage

The Dimension Data riders on stage (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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There was a big crowd at the team presentation

There was a big crowd at the team presentation (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Team Sky at the Saitama criterium

Team Sky at the Saitama criterium (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome is the yellow Saitama Samurai

Chris Froome is the yellow Saitama Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The four Saitama Samurai

The four Saitama Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittle the Samurai

Marcel Kittle the Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel slays his rival Samurai

Marcel Kittel slays his rival Samurai (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Warren Barguil shows his Samurai skills

Warren Barguil shows his Samurai skills (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel is introduced to the crowd

Marcel Kittel is introduced to the crowd (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Rigoberto Uran gives a wave

Rigoberto Uran gives a wave (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The Cannondale-Drapac team enjoys a laugh

The Cannondale-Drapac team enjoys a laugh (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Michal Kwiatkowski signs autographs for fans

Michal Kwiatkowski signs autographs for fans (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Chris Froome was a popular man as the riders arrived at their hotel

Chris Froome was a popular man as the riders arrived at their hotel (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel poses for a photo with a fan

Marcel Kittel poses for a photo with a fan (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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There were plenty of autographs for Chris Froome to sign

There were plenty of autographs for Chris Froome to sign (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The fans wait for the riders to arrive

The fans wait for the riders to arrive (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Simon Geschke is a regular at the Saitama Criterium

Simon Geschke is a regular at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Warren Barguil signs autographs

Warren Barguil signs autographs (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel gets dressed up

Marcel Kittel gets dressed up (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel and Warren Barguil

Marcel Kittel and Warren Barguil (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Mark Cavendish arrived in Japan on Thursday

Mark Cavendish arrived in Japan on Thursday (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Warren Barguil with Amael Moinard

Warren Barguil with Amael Moinard (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel puts his game face on

Marcel Kittel puts his game face on (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Marcel Kittel`dresses up

Marcel Kittel`dresses up (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Greg Van Avermaet rides onto the stage

Greg Van Avermaet rides onto the stage (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

After Tai Chi and dragon dancing in China at the Shanghai Criterium, the end of season fun continued in Japan on Friday as the riders caught and cooked Unagi eels, wielded samurai swords and chucked ninja stars – all in the name of cultural immersion ahead of the Saitama Criterium.

Both the Shanghai and Saitama criteriums are put on by Tour de France organiser ASO to export a flavour of the Tour to the Asian market. While last week was the inaugural edition of the Shanghai Criterium, Saitama is in its fifth edition and has had riders sumo wrestling, firing arrows and beating drums in the past.

On Friday, a fight between samurai and ninja warriors was the main event, played out on stage in front of a big and enthusiastic crowd of locals. Marcel Kittel and Warren Barguil donned the elaborate outfits and long swords of the samurai, while Chris Froome and Greg Van Avermaet were dressed in the rather more underwhelming ninja get-ups – more ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ than ‘Ninja Assassin’. There were demonstrations from experts before the pros were called onto the stage.

Kittel and Barguil dodged attacks and then ‘defeated’ the ninjas before Froome and Van Avermaet launched Shuriken – the small sharp weapon known as ninja stars – at a target. Froome put it slap bang in the middle of the bullseye with his first attempt. Van Avermaet needed several re-throws.

Before that, Mark Cavendish and Fabio Sabatini had fished live Unagi eels out of a tank with their bare hands. “Slippery,” was how the British sprinter described the experience, to the delight of the amused crowd.

A Japanese chef then demonstrated how to kill and prepare the eel, cutting its throat and pinning its head to the chopping board before proceeding to remove its guts while it was still moving. Cavendish and Uran later helped cook it before it was served up to all the riders.

If today’s appetizer was anything to go by, the weekend's main event will be just as well supported as in recent years, with fans literally falling over each other as riders stepped out of the elevator at their hotel on their way to the event. Some fans went as far as to travel to Tokyo Nakita airport to greet Didi the Devil as he arrived from Shanghai with the press corps on Wednesday evening.

Racing will take place on Saturday with a three-pronged schedule, featuring a special sprint race involving a derny and a one-kilometre free-for-all, a 2.5km team time trial, and the main criterium.

Cyclingnews will have full coverage, photos and special interviews from Saitama in the next few days.