The amateur cycling World Tour, the UCI Gran Fondo, selects destinations worldwide to host championship qualifying races every year. Niseko is one of these esteemed destinations, located in Hokkaido, Japan, chosen for the event.
The UCI Gran Fondo provides the unique opportunity for the top 25% of finishers in each age group at each location to compete in a penultimate World Championship race held in a different destination annually. This race, formerly known as the UWCT Final and UCI Masters Road World Championships, was an event that I've personally been fortunate enough to take part in and enjoy the once in a lifetime experience and privilege of standing on the podium for this Championship Finals back in 2012 when it was held in South Africa.
Participants of the actual Niseko Challenge Event can enter the 150km course with a challenging 2,609m ascent that goes up the stunning Panorama Line climb, out to the Sea of Japan, and back to Niseko Hirafu Resort. There is also an opportunity to do a shorter 85km event with 1,426m of climbing. The riders weave their way through Kutchan, Niseko, Rankoshi and Kyowa, located at the foot of the Niseko mountain.
Watch the Niseko YouTube promo video below to get a sense of the electric atmosphere around this event.
Niseko is a town and a top ski resort located in the northern island prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan, two hours drive from Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido. The area, situated in a National Park, includes a mountain range known as Mount Yōtei. Niseko is a group of inactive stratovolcanos located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park where locals call it Yezo Fuji or Ezo Fuji, "Ezo," an ancient name for the island of Hokkaido because it resembles Mount Fuji. Niseko originated from the indigenous Ainu inhabitants, meaning a mountain with a cliff and a river running around it.
The stunning panoramic vistas from the mountains to the deep blue sea, the cool temperatures, fresh air and good cycling-friendly roads contribute as a major drawcard for cyclists to explore this pristine region. Here one can experience rolling hills and challenging climbs, weaving and winding around Mt Yotei in the beautiful natural scenery of lush evergreen trees and boreal forests, also known as the 'taiga.'
The resort has the world's best powder snow for skiing throughout winter. Hot springs called 'onsen' contain unique mineral properties, and crystal clear rivers are some of the purest in Japan thanks to the fertile volcanic soil, abundant agriculture and fantastic produce. Sansai or mountain vegetables are a specialty, and sake, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice and seafood, tops the menus. Hokkaido prides itself on its water conservation.
The route we will do, which is a 33km segment of the complete 150km route, has 910m of climbing with an average of 3% and a maximum of 14%. This particular uphill course takes you around Niseko Annupuri, through the Niseko HANAZONO Hill Climb, up the Panorama Line, and finishes at Shinsennuma, one of the highest KOM points in Hokkaido.
The route begins downhill for the first 5km, giving you time to warm up and take in the scenery and spectacular view of the entire volcano in the distance, setting the scene for the ride and showing you where you'll be heading. The climb is a long 14km to the top with a manageable 4% average gradient. There are two places you can recover a bit with some downhills in the first quarter of the climb.
My suggestion would be to ride conservatively throughout this undulating section and continue taking it easy using a high cadence up to the 15km mark. You'll want to save some energy not only to reach the summit but also for the second but shorter climb that follows with the peak at 29km. After that, you'll have a fun downhill of 2km and a short 1km flat section to the finish, where a jug of sweet sake will be waiting for you.
Time to complete it:
4W/kg - just over an hour
3W/kg - around 1h15min
2W/kg - around 1h45
GPX File of the total distance Niseko Classic route
Join the Niseko challenge HERE
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