Saitama Criterium: Riders learn Karate moves and play football-darts - Gallery

The eve of the Saitama Tour de France Criterium (opens in new tab) was marked by the usual spectacle of professional cyclists dipping their toes in Japanese culture, with karate on the menu on Saturday along with – somewhat less traditionally – football-darts.

After riding with local children in the morning, the riders attended the team presentation in Saitama’s Super Arena in the afternoon, where they were called on stage in front of a crowd of guests and fans.

Michal Kwiatkowski, Matteo Trentin (opens in new tab), Marcel Kittel Lilian Calmejane and Yukiya Arashiro then donned white robes for a demonstration of the martial art of karate. After being taken through a couple of the defensive and offensive moves, they all punched through a sheet of polystyrene.

"I think I’m ready now for the real brick," exclaimed Kwiatkowski, to the crowd’s delight.

Next came football darts, a game where you kick a soft football at a giant velcro dartboard. Egan Bernal (opens in new tab), Primoz Roglic, Romain Bardet, and Jakob Fuglsang were up against a selection of players from the Urawa Red Diamonds team.

With Bardet – socks pulled up over his knees a la Thierry Henry – and Roglic both hitting trebles, the riders beat the footballers at their own game as the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West, a tune heard on terraces throughout Europe, rang out across the arena.

The footballers then tried to beat the riders at their own game, going head to head in a 500-metre sprint on a static bike.  An under-saddled Fuglsang and an over-geared Bardet were roundly beaten but Roglic and Bernal showed no mercy and peddled at full pelt to turn it around.

Click or swipe through the gallery above for a selection of photos from the event.

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.