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Tsujiura defends crown at Japanese 'cross nationals

By David Alvarez

The 11th Japanese Cyclocross Championships were held in conjunction with the fourth round of the Kansai Series, in the city of Sakai. The slightly surreal race venue was an ocean-side park on a man-made island in Osaka harbour, surrounded by factories and garbage incineration plants. With slightly cloudy and cool conditions, 53 riders toed the line for the elite men's start.

A lead group of eight took off from the very beginning, and this would prove to be the big break of the day. The riders, including previous champs Masahiko Mifune and Keichi Tsujiura, worked together for the first few laps, with no real attacks being launched. Behind them the rest of the field formed into small groups on the fast and windy course.

Drama came early as Tsujiura rolled a tire on the second lap. Luckily, it was just before the pit and team-mate Raita Suzuki was there to pull him back up to the front group. On the fourth lap, local favorite Mifune flatted and crashed, and he lost contact with the lead group for good.

Not long after Mifune's mishap, Tsujiura launched a brutal attack that split the rest of the lead riders, looking impressive as he continued to put time every lap into his nearest competitors. He would cruise in for the win, with time enough for a lengthy celebration as he coasted up to the finish line.

After the main group splintered, Suwako Racing Team strongman Masanori Kosaka and Shimano Drinking rider Shingo Shiraishi rode in tandem, with Kosaka taking the sprint for 2nd. It was an excellent result for Shiraishi, a mountain bike pro who excels in courses with more climbing.

Ritsumeikan University showed its continued development of top cycling racers, with two riders finishing in the top ten. Masahiko Mifune fought back for 8th, just ahead of Bridgestone Anchor rider and current National MTB champion Raita Suzuki.

In the women's event there was not quite as much drama, but an equally dominating performance as rider Eiko Toyooka used her power on the flat course to take the white jersey of the Japan national champion.

Click here for results and photos.

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