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November 5 th 2022 - 20:35 [GMT + 9]

On the eve of the 8th edition of the Criterium, the stars of the Tour engaged with the fans with a series of activities in Saitama. “There are so many fans, it’s important give them a good show”, Vingegaard highlighted. “This is a great occasion to show what Japanese riders can do”, said Yukiya Arashiro, the last winner of the Criterium, who expects big crowds for the return of the race in Saitama. At the same time, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali’s outstanding careers were celebrated on the eve of their last event as professional riders.

Nibali - Valverde, the real last dance

On Sunday, it will be over, for real. Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali’s ride through the streets of Saitama will be their last display as professional riders whose careers left a strong mark on their sport and especially on the Tour. Guided by Marcel Kittel, a veteran of the Tour de France Saitama Criterium, the two soon-to-be-retired champions visited the Saitamarche in the early afternoon, an open market with food stands. They went on to dress with traditional Japanese costumes and headed to the Saitama Super Arena, where they were the main guests of JSports, the official broadcaster of the Tour in Japan, alongside Jonas Vingegaard and Chris Froome. “It has been a very important season, very intense as well with many tifosi to carry me”, Nibali said as he gets ready to embrace a new role as technical advisor. “I’m very happy to be here to finish my last season”, Valverde concurred. The Spaniard won the Criterium in 2018 and is now set to join the staff of Movistar.

Arashiro: “lots of Japanese fans and riders”

Winner of the last edition of the Saitama Criterium Tour de France, Yukiya Arashiro expressed his delight as he was getting ready to put his title back in play on Sunday. “I’m excited and super happy”, said the Japanese star, winner of 3 Elite national championships. “There will be many Japanese fans following the race, on the circuit and watching their TV. People will come to Saitama just for this, we want the live action. We’ve been waiting for three years, it was a long break. There will be lots of Japanese riders: paracyclists, juniors, women, professional teams… When Keiko Sugiura won gold medals in the Paralympics, it was a big event. With the pandemics, Japanese cyclists couldn’t race outside. We opened the border only two weeks ago. Now, this is a great occasion to show what Japanese cyclists can do.” Local heroes and their global rivals will show their talents in time trial events and then in the road race, with 17 laps of 3.5km.

Vingegaard et al meet the crowds

Saitama was already experiencing the Tour de France atmosphere on Saturday, with a series of events in the city with the stars of July. While Kittel, Valverde and Nibali were visiting the Saitamarché, Jonas Vingegaard, Sepp Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk and Yukiya Arashiro exchanged with students at an exhibit in Cocoon City; and Mark Cavendish, Jasper Philipsen and Simon Geschke rode with kids at the Cycle Festa. “It’s my first time here, I have been here since Monday and I have enjoyed my time with my family”, said Vingegaard, who came to Japan with his wife and his young daughter. “There are so many fans, it’s important to give them a good show tomorrow.” Also a first time visitor in Saitama, Philipsen was “amazed with the fans. It’s a new experience for me and I’m really enjoying it.”

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