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Saitama Criterium: Baseball, drums and falcons - Gallery

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A good catch by Geraint Thomas

A good catch by Geraint Thomas
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Yukiya Arashiro tries a bit of falconry

Yukiya Arashiro tries a bit of falconry
(Image credit: Twitter)
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Alejandro Valverde Catches the ball

Alejandro Valverde Catches the ball
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alberto Contador was back in Saitama

Alberto Contador was back in Saitama
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas takes a swing

Geraint Thomas takes a swing
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas and Alexander Kristoff chat before going on stage

Geraint Thomas and Alexander Kristoff chat before going on stage
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Ladies and gentlemen, your players

Ladies and gentlemen, your players
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There was a big crowd to watch the riders

There was a big crowd to watch the riders
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alexander Kristoff takes a swing

Alexander Kristoff takes a swing
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders show confidence in their teammate's abilities in baseball

The riders show confidence in their teammate's abilities in baseball
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Thankfully Alexander Kristoff is better at cycling than he is at baseball

Thankfully Alexander Kristoff is better at cycling than he is at baseball
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alejandro Valverde got a rainbow baseball jersey

Alejandro Valverde got a rainbow baseball jersey
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel has been a regular at the Saitama Criterium

Marcel Kittel has been a regular at the Saitama Criterium
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders keep warm as they watch the stage show

The riders keep warm as they watch the stage show
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu shows off his moves

Fumiyuki Beppu shows off his moves
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Yukiya Arashiro plays the drums

Yukiya Arashiro plays the drums
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders learn taiko drumming

The riders learn taiko drumming
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Vincenzo Nibali tries to follow by example

Vincenzo Nibali tries to follow by example
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas throws the ball

Geraint Thomas throws the ball
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas, Alexander Kristoff, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador

Geraint Thomas, Alexander Kristoff, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alexander Kristoff and Geraint Thomas

Alexander Kristoff and Geraint Thomas
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas got his own yellow BMX bike

Geraint Thomas got his own yellow BMX bike
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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European Champion Matteo Trentin and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates

European Champion Matteo Trentin and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alberto Contador was welcomed back for another year in Saitama

Alberto Contador was welcomed back for another year in Saitama
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alberto Contador speaks to the crowd

Alberto Contador speaks to the crowd
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fans hold cardboard cut-outs of Alberto Contador and Fumiyuki Beppu

Fans hold cardboard cut-outs of Alberto Contador and Fumiyuki Beppu
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel signs autographs

Marcel Kittel signs autographs
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel tries some local cuisine

Marcel Kittel tries some local cuisine
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu visits children in hospital

Fumiyuki Beppu visits children in hospital
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alejandro Valverde goes onto stage

Alejandro Valverde goes onto stage
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel rides up onto stage

Marcel Kittel rides up onto stage
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders line-up on the start line

The riders line-up on the start line
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel talks on stage

Marcel Kittel talks on stage
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas lines up with some local kids

Geraint Thomas lines up with some local kids
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde pose for a photo

Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde pose for a photo
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The remake of Reservoir Dogs looked a little different

The remake of Reservoir Dogs looked a little different
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Team Sky line up on stage

Team Sky line up on stage
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Japanese stars Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu

Japanese stars Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Movistar are introduced to the crowd

Movistar are introduced to the crowd
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador pay a visit to a local hospital

Fumiyuki Beppu, Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador pay a visit to a local hospital
(Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Geraint Thomas, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Marcel Kittel, Matteo Trentin Alexander Kristoff and a select group of their teammates spent Saturday enjoying Taiko drum lessons, baseball and children’s bike race in Saitama on Saturday as they entertained the local Japanese crowd before the Saitama Tour de France criterium on Sunday.

This year marks the sixth edition of the Saitama Criterium, which is organised by Tour de France organisers ASO and hefty appearance fees has ensured the presence of some of the biggest names in the peloton. For Thomas, it is one of his final post-Tour de France celebration events and Valverde is being feted as the new world champion but Kittel and Kristoff have already begun working for the 2019 season and are looking ahead rather than back

For all the riders, the trip east from Europe is a relaxed moment, with many of them bringing their wives, partners and even children. The pressure of the Classics and the Tour de France is a distant memory and the riders had fun as they were used to entertain the Japanese cycling fans. A few hundred attended the team presentation events but thousands are expected on Sunday for the sprint race, the time trials and the main event criterium on Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday Thomas, Valverde, Kristoff and event ambassador Alberto Contador were given a baseball lesson on stage after the team presentation, with Thomas in a yellow baseball jersey and Valverde in rainbow stripes. They quickly showed the could throw and catch a ball but hitting a baseball for a virtual home run proved more difficult. Kristoff’s could hardly hit a ball and Valverde realised he should perhaps stick to bike racing, while Thomas was much better but managed to hit a lady in the crowd as he hit autographed softballs into the crowd.

When asked if he perhaps played, cricket, Thomas reminded the speaker that he comes from Wales. “Cricket is a posh sport, we prefer to play rugby in Wales,” he joked.

Kristoff claimed he was hitting the balls into the crowd as a pre-race tactic. “I was targeting Marcel because I fear him for the sprint tomorrow but obviously the balls were too soft because he is still laughing,” he joked.

Before the baseball capers, Nibali, Trentin, Kittel and Fumiyuki Beppu and Yukiya Arashiro – who will compete in a Japan team on Sunday - were given a Taiko drumming lesson. They struggled to pick up the three-beat and then seven-beat rhythm. Earlier in the day Arashiro also took part in a falconry display, while Kittel went shopping in the Saitama market. Contador lead Thomas and Valverde in a children’s bike race, taking things far too competitively by surging away off the front to win.

Thomas was wearing his Tour de France winner’s yellow jersey and will race on his yellow Tour de France bike.

“I could get used to wearing this,” he joked, promising to ‘fight’ for victory in Sunday’s exhibition criterium even if he has still fully get back into training for the 2019 season.

Click or swipe through the photo gallery to see images of the baseball, drumming and other activities form Japan.