The Japan Cup with Rapha | Utsunomiya, Japan’s Annual Cycling Event

The Japan Cup with Rapha | Utsunomiya, Japan’s Annual Cycling Event

The Finish Line at the Japan Cup in Utsunomiya, Japan.
The Finish Line at the Japan Cup in Utsunomiya, Japan.

Having been a long time since I had last ridden with a Rapha group in Japan, I was thrilled to see a notification in my Rapha App about a new group ride coming up in Utsunomiya. The plan for the day was simple, thanks to Covid, once again all of the events for the year were canceled. So, rather than watch the race, we would instead head over to Utsunomiya to do a group ride along the famous Japan Cup course on the weekend of the race.

While our ride was a bit, well to be honest a cold downpour, it was still great to see this famous Japan cycle racing area and ride the roads the pros race on.

Cresting the top of the climb on the Japan Cup Road Race Course.
Cresting the top of the climb on the Japan Cup Road Race Course.

What is the Japan Cup Cycling Race?

Well, as the name implies, the Japan Cup is a cycling race held in Japan. But to be more specific it is an annual 3 day race that happens each year in October or November over a weekend.

The race consists of three days and two stages. The first day is a team presentation, the second day, a “show” criterium in downtown Utsunomiya (more on this later), and the final day a road race around the Japan Cup Course.

The Chojo sign (mountain top sign) of the Japan Cup Road Race Course.
The Chojo sign (mountain top sign) of the Japan Cup Road Race Course.

Where is the Japan Cup / Where is Utsunomiya, Japan?

Less than one hour by Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo, Utsunomiya is directly north and about 100km from Tokyo. Utsunomiya is in Tochigi Prefecture and is also about 35km east of famous Nikko City at the foot of the Nikko National Park where we love cycling.

The race takes place over three days with a team presentation and two races, a criterium and a road race.

Where is the Team Presentation?

The team presentation happens on the Friday each year and consists of introducing each of the teams. The event is usually held in downtown Utsunomiya.

Where is the Criterium Race?

The criterium is usually held in downtown Utsunomiya and is more a presentation than a proper race with laps often used to showcase riders or teams rather than a full out race. They tend to “show race” for the first half and more really race the second half. But, when Chris Froome is winning sprints in a professional peloton you know that it’s probably not a real race.

Where is the Road Race?

Course map of the Japan Cup Road Race.
Course map of the Japan Cup Road Race. (source)

At just over 10km per lap, the road race consists of a loop that runs through the Lakeland Country Club about 13km northwest of Utsunomiya City.

The race consists of 14 laps for a total of 144km raced.

Can I Watch the Race? And Does It Cost Money?

Yes, you can watch the Japan Cup Cycling Race for free!

There are no fees for spectators and it is very easy to get to the race start by bike from Utsunomiya City.

Can I Ride the Course?

Yes, you can ride both the criterium and road race course. That said, the criterium course is a very busy area in downtown Utsunomiya and some of the turns are impossible to make, so it is advised simply ride around the area if you would like to see it.

As for riding the road race course, these roads are open to the public every day of the year with few exceptions such as the days of the Japan Cup Race.

How to Ride the Japan Cup Road Race Course

For those looking to ride the Japan Cup Road Race Course, you can check out the Strava route file below for the course as well as a route to get to and from the course from Utsunomiya Station.

Strava Route File – Cycling the Japan Cup Road Race Course

Strava Route File – Utsunomiya Station to the Japan Cup Road Race Course – Direct Route

Strava Route File – Utsunomiya Station to the Japan Cup Road Race Course – Scenic Route

Who Rides in the Japan Cup?

Each year many of the top UCI teams as well as a handful of local Japanese teams compete in the race.

In 2019 these teams included the following list below. Click the + to the right to expand the list

Japan Cup 2019 Teams List

UCI WorldTeams

  • MITCHELTON – SCOTT(MTS/AUS)
  • BAHRAIN – MERIDA(TBM/BRN)
  • EF EDUCATION FIRST(EF1/USA)
  • TEAM JUMBO – VISMA(TJV/NED)
  • TREK – SEGAFREDO(TFS/USA)

UCI Professional Continental Teams

  • DELKO MARSEILLE PROVENCE(DMP/FRA)
  • NIPPO – VINI FANTINI – FAIZANÉ(NIP/ITA)
  • TEAM NOVO NORDISK(TNN/USA)
  • WALLONIE BRUXELLES(WVA/BEL)

UCI Continental Teams

  • LJUBLJANA GUSTO SANTIC(LGS/SLO)
  • TEAM SAPURA CYCLING(TSC/MAS)
  • THAILAND CONTINENTAL CYCLING TEAM(TCC/THA)
  • WILDLIFE GENERATION PRO CYCLING P / B MAXXIS(WGC/USA)
  • TEAM UKYO(UKO/JPN)
  • MATRIX POWERTAG(MTR/JPN)
  • KINAN CYCLING TEAM(KIN/JPN)
  • UTSUNOMIYA BLITZEN(BLZ/JPN)
  • SHIMANO RACING TEAM(SMN/JPN)
  • TEAM BRIDGESTONE CYCLING(BGT/JPN)
  • NASU BLASEN(NAS/JPN)

National Team

  • JAPAN NATIONAL TEAM(JPN/JPN)

JAPAN CUP Special Team

  • CRITERIUM SPECIAL RIDERS(SPL/JPN)

Rapha at the Japan Cup | Rapha Utsunomiya Pop-up Store

Rapha has operated a pop-up store each year for the Japan Cup in downtown Utsunomiya since sponsoring team EF Education. That said, it is not clear if they will continue after Covid when the race resumes.

When is it open?

Each year the pop-up shop has been open from roughly two weeks before the race, through the race weekend. You can find more information here on the 2019 schedule to get an idea of future operations.

Rapha Partner Cafe Laundry Coffee in Utsunomiya.
Rapha Partner Cafe Laundry Coffee in Utsunomiya.

Rapha Clubhouse & Cafe in Utsunomiya

There is no Rapha clubhouse in Utsunomiya Japan, but there is a partner cafe where members can get a discount on coffee called Laundry Coffee.

A great name for exactly what it is, a laundromat fused with a cafe. While this might sound bizarre and even annoying, the setup is very well done and the coffee is top notch. The laundry machines put off almost no smell or noise, and the area is great for warming up after getting drenched out on a ride like we did that day!

A cold soul warms his soggy wet bibs after a long day in the pouring rain.
A cold soul warms his soggy wet bibs after a long day in the pouring rain.

If you want to read more about places we love to ride in Japan, check out the below article on my 14 favorite climbs in Japan!

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