Time to break out the sorting hat. When grand tour bike races start (and in high-school terms three days certainly qualifies as a grand your) everyone tends to fall into their specified roles. With two-week affairs like the Tour de France the intermediate goals are the stage wins themselves, but even with those stages there are checkpoints – sprints for the- well, sprinters – summits for the climbers – where they earn points in their specialty’s overall classification. Meanwhile the all-around contenders bide their time, sometimes even acting in support of their sprinters at the end of flat stages.
At the inter-high, it seems, the importance of the intermediate checkpoints is mainly psychological – establishing an advantage over the other teams and seizing control of the peloton. Sprinting is not Onoda’s specialty, of course, and that’s probably a good thing because safely riding in the main pack with Kinjou and the others while Tadokoro and Naruko head for the front is the best way for him to settle into the race. The idea of her son being a competitive cyclist is one Onoda’s mother apparently still hasn’t wrapped her head around – she initially assumed it was an Anime Club race (just what would that look like?) and to be honest I can’t blame her. Sakamichi-kun doesn’t exactly look like an athlete.
It’s no secret and no surprise, but this episode makes it pretty clear that the inter-high is going to be a long, slow build – this is not an event where we’re going to see a winner crowned next week. We’re not quite in “Chimera Ant” pacing territory yet but this ep covered the “parade” – the ceremonial (again, luckily for Onoda) 2 KM which begins the race, and the build-up for the race to the first checkpoint. Naruko talks grandly of the three first-years finishing each day in the lead, side-by-side – though he cautions not to tell the third-years – and while Imaizumi makes light of it as usual, it’s pretty clear that he’s developed a feeling of camaraderie with his two teammates that he never has in his cycling career.
There’s a semi-serious issue raised here – will the third-years be content to fall into their assigned roles as domestiques for the seniors (as Tadokoro and Makashima will ultimately do for Kinjou)? We don’t know for a fact just how close in ability the freshmen are to the seniors yet, and this race will certainly be an interesting test of that question. But it’s not just Naruko – Imaizumi too seems ill-suited to resign himself to a supporting role (and it’s not as obvious with Imaizumi just what specific role Kinjou has assigned to him). Yet in a tour, there can be only one leader on every team and if the entire group doesn’t fall into line, it’s generally an insurmountable problem. I very much doubt we’ll get to that point here, but both their personalities (even Sakamichi) and the dramatic imperative suggest that the first-years should be racing to win.
It’s going to be a while before we see Onoda (and Makashima) in a competitive situation, clearly. For now the focus is on the sprinters and that means Tadokoro and Naruko. It’s unusual for a school to have two sprinters fighting for the checkpoint and these two are unusual teammates. They bicker and spit at each other from the moment the breakaway starts – and Tadokoro makes Naruko wait to give chase – until they’ve passed the breakaway group, literally bumping into each other all the way. This is mostly played for laughs but again, there’s a semi-serious thing happening here when Naruko isn’t agreeable towards following orders from his senior, and that could have consequences when things reach a crucial stage.
The odd couple’s tea party is broken up with the arrival of the delegate from HakoGaku – Izumida-kun, the kid who named his pecs after the Schlecks. It figures that Hakone would have a top gun in every specialty, and while this is Izumida’s first inter-high he’s clearly a sprinting beast. He trains like a bodybuilder (bulks up and then converts the fat into muscle) and like a pro racer tuning up for the Tour de France, uses the intermediate races merely as preparation, with no concern for the results. This throws Tadokoro off, and the “old man” seems genuinely surprised to see Izumida be such a powerful force on the road. In fact, he blows by both old man and red bean without seeming to push himself at all, and it leaves Tadokoro looking quite taken aback. HakoGaku, clearly, is not a team to be taken lightly in any facet of the race – we’ll see if the Sohuku sprinters have what it takes to make a statement early on that they’re likewise a force to be reckoned with.