No question about it, sports can be a brutal lesson in the unsentimental nature of fate – just ask Tom Watson. That, and a reminder of the hard truth that more often than not, talent wins out in the end. That said, I was never too wrapped up in the story of TeshimAoyagi for reasons I’ve already laid out. And the simple fact is the three first-years are busting their asses too, and doing so with huge handicaps – this wasn’t the plucky underdog story that Teshima had built it up to in his mind. It’s not Imaizumi, Naruko and Sakamichi’s fault that they happen to be exceptionally gifted.
This was definitely an episode that played up the drama big-time. Maybe a bit too much for my tastes – for one of the very few times Yowamushi Pedal laid it on a bit too thick, I thought, especially when Kinjou was making speeches about the nature of sports and the brutality of competition (though I did like his analogy of the end of a road race being like a 100-meter dash at the end of a marathon). Of course the fact that I’m slightly down on Kinjou at the moment might be coloring my view of those scenes a bit – I get the method behind his madness, but there are some things in the way he’s chosen to handle this training camp that I don’t really agree with.
The first order of business is obviously resolving the brutal cliffhanger of last week. On paper, Naruko should have been the one to win that sprint to the line. He’s a sprinter by specialty, and there’s a reason breakaway groups trying to steal flat grand tour stages try and drop sprinters before they get to the final few KM of the stage. Happily that’s exactly what did happen – score one for realism, as Naruko won the stage, with Imaizumi in tow. But what really mattered was that all three of the first-years finished ahead of both the second-years. Even with their hobbled bikes, they came out ahead – at this point there can be no possible doubt as to who’s more deserving of going to inter-highs.
To Teshima’s credit, he doesn’t seem to be in denial mode. Of course with he and Aoyagi so physically broken they can’t continue it’s not as though he can deny the truth, but after the fact at least he’s gracious in defeat to the “elites”. There’s still the matter of finishing the 1000K though, which is no formality – especially when the fourth day dawns with rain, and especially for Onoda. Here’s yet another example of where his inexperience is really highlighted – actually trying to ride a racing bike for the first time in the rain is no easy thing. Naruko and Imaizumi are joined at the hip and they manage to finish their thousand not long after the third-years, but Onoda is far behind – and this becomes an even bigger problem when he breaks the pedal on his borrowed bike.
I have a couple of issues with the way Kinjou has handled Onoda here. The handicap thing is what it is, and if he chooses to be rigid – “no 1000K, no inter-highs” – that’s his choice. But he’s really made no allowances for Onoda’s inexperience. In the first place – and this is on Naruko and Imaizumi too – how is it that no one rode with Onoda on the last day to try and help him, as he had the highest hill to climb to get to 1000K? I would have thought the other first-years (who were assured of making it) or Makishima might ride with Onoda as it’s far, far more difficult to engage in a long ride on your own. And just because they finished their 1000K, there was no rule that they all had to stop. Why didn’t someone – Makishima, Naruko, anyone – keep riding with Onoda, trying to help him get to the goal?
Biggest gripe of all for me, though, is this: how is it that no one thought to give Sakamichi a pair of god-damn cleats? Riding in sneakers is a monstrous disadvantage, on top of all his other handicaps – would it really have been too much for Kinjou (or anyone else, though it was ultimately Kinjou’s responsibility) to at least give Onoda proper racing footwear and pedals? It falls to Teshima to do so after Onoda’s equipment failure (I’m still not 100% clear on why Teshima was there at that moment), really redeeming himself for his earlier dubious behavior. I bought this totally – I could definitely see Teshima being quicker to come around to the home-grown, self-taught Onoda than the pure-bred Imaizumi and Naruko – that, and intensely curious to see just what this freak of nature could actually do fighting on even terms with proper equipment. This was good karma, here – Onoda has been nothing but kind and supportive to everyone else, and he was owed a little help from an experienced hand at this stage. It’s just mildly disappointing that it had to be Teshima to be the one to offer it.
With all that said, the moment Ononda crossed the line was an exceptionally well-earned dramatic payoff (I knew Naruko would hug him), and there can be absolutely no question that the tireless terrier earned this trip to inter-highs. I have great expectations for him, riding on a proper bike with proper equipment, and even a bit more training under his belt. As Teshima said the job of the first-years is to put the third-years on the top step of the podium (though it would defy every law of shounen if they did), but I can’t help look ahead to next year. It’ll be Sakamichi, Imaizumi and Naruko’s turn to try and ascend that podium then – and they’ll need help in doing so. That, perhaps, might be TeshimAoyagi’s time to truly redeem themselves, and to stamp their ticket to inter-highs better late than never.