ONE of the quirkier sights we will be denied this summer due to the Tokyo Olympics being postponed is a chap on a moped being chased around a track by a pack of cyclists.
The keirin — introduced to a wider audience at Sydney 2000 — may be eccentric but dig a little deeper, and it is clearly more than a novelty act.
The esteem in which it is held in Japan, where it was established in 1948, is told by British Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy, who twice won gold in the discipline, in The Secret World of Japanese Bicycle Racing [BBC iPlayer].
Hoy was one of the first foreigners to be granted a place at the keirin school in Matsudo in 2005 and he returns there to help explain the country’s fascination with this event.
It is an obsession that generates more than £10billion a year, offers riders an opportunity to win over £1million in prize money and sees more wagered on one day at its showpiece Grand Prix than the entire British horseracing season.
Part military academy, part training camp, invitations to attend the school are offered to a select few, with world team sprint silver medallist Joe Truman the latest British student.
On race weekend, he explains, riders are locked away with no interaction with the outside world. They have no coaches, while all tactics are declared before the start of each race.
Riders are kept in a holding room before the race and Hoy calls it: ‘It’s the most intimidating atmosphere I’ve ever been in. Other guys will just sit there and stare at you, give you a glare or talk at you in Japanese, some are shouting.’
Truman, 23, adds: ‘I was in a final and a guy had two bottles of smelling salts up his nose and was wearing a bandana. He was staring right at me. It psyched me out a little bit.’
Victory is met with little celebration. The winning rider hands out bottles of water to his rivals who often respond with gifts to each other. ‘I’ve got a box full of presents, four or five pairs of gloves and tyres,’ says Truman.
Hoy’s story of the keirin is an enjoyable view of a race that not only looks, but is, like no other.