Leave it to Yowamushi Pedal to get really good just in time to make me miss it to death. Don’t get me wrong, “New Generation” has been solid Yowapeda from day one, but these last couple of episodes have really showed off the series at its competitive best. Grounded in realism, tense, dramatic – they’ve flown by in what feels like ten minutes. They’ve been a reminder of just how great a sports anime this is, and as close as its come to catching up with the manga, it’s going to be at least a year before we get a fourth season.
Anyone who’s ever ridden up (or even more so, down) the Irohazaka in a tour bus knows just what a freakish road it is. It’s notorious for being one of the most terrifying bus trips in existence, a steep and endless grade full of switchbacks and hairpin corners. So one can only imagine what it must be like to ride up that on a bicycle. It’s the sort of situation when a cycling team really needs a rider like Onoda to take charge, so this is his moment to shine like none other so far this season. Except…
The tactics in a race like this are really fascinating to watch play out. Without any question, Izumida is to be praised for intentionally trying to exploit his greatest rival’s weakness – the relative inexperience of their best riders in big (both in stature and competitor pool) races. He has a compound advantage with Onoda mired back in the pack, though – he’s brought four climbers to this inter-high, and Sohoku only two (and one of them is not a rider of great talent). Anyone who watches the Tour de France knows it’s the climbers who are the key men, the podium contenders. Not only that, Sohoku has two sprinters exhausted by the chase for the first stage, and Hakone only one.
I think it’s dubious whether other teams would intentionally block a rider from trying to get back to his team – in a professional grand tour anyway, but perhaps high school races are different. In any event Teshima is right that it would be a huge risk to send anyone back to help, because it would indeed make Sohoku that much more vulnerable to an attack by HakoGaku that would not only win them the stage, but gain them valuable time to start the second day. But I’d still contend Teshima erred here – he should have sent one rider back. I was thinking Kaburagi but perhaps the more experienced Aoyagi would have been a safer choice. But in any event he didn’t, and now the die is cast.
Thus, we have the drama playing out both at the front and the back of the field. As the other teams send their climbers to attack one by one, Onoda is pinned at the back by riders trying to eliminate the #1 tag as competition for their own aces. Finally Onoda does what it always struck me he should have – intentionally fall behind them, then try to escape on their outside. It works to an extent – he does break away for a time, and manages to drop over half of his captors. But he’s still mired near the back of the peloton as the Irohazaka begins to break it apart.
Meanwhile, when HakoGaku chooses their moment to attack it’s Manami-kun Izumida sends (which surprised me a bit, as I thought he might save him for the third day). And it’s Teshima who goes with him because, well- he’s the only other climber Sohoku has. Manami is at his breezy best here – smiling and cheeky, obviously not taking Teshima seriously. And I don’t know why he should, frankly – the Sohoku skipper is game, but if Teshima manages to give a climber of Manami’s genius a true test I’ll find that a test of credulity. Teshima can talk all day about trying to wear out Hakone’s ace, but it seems more likely to me that he’s the one at the real risk of spending his stash too early in the inter-high.
At some point Onoda is certainly going to escape his tormentors and work his way through the field, but it’s a lot to ask for him to climb all the way to the front. I think it’d be enough if he’s there to pick up the chase when Teshima crashes and burns and limit the time damage, but we’ll see. In the meanwhile, it’s again worth noting that there’s absolutely no mention of Kyoto Fushimi – Midousuji seems to have decided to genuinely play possum this year and leave the stage wins for the other contenders. There are limits to that strategy, though – he can only fall so far behind and still be a factor on the final day, so he’s going to have to crash the party at some point before then…