The First-Year Welcome Race is an annual event held by the Sohoku High Bicycle Club. It's suggested that it is scheduled about three weeks after the club starts up for the school year.
The course runs out of the city, over Mount Minegayama, past Kazakami Tunnel, and around the Kameishi Dam, making it a 60km race. The welcome race is used to select Inter High members. The course can be divided into four distinct stages after the racers exit the city. The first stage is a 12km speed race in the flat countryside. The second stage is the Mount Minegayama climb, which turns into a battle of endurance. The third stage is the descent down the mountain, where again speed is important. The fourth and last stage is the 18km portion that runs around the dam. This final stage is on uneven ground, so it tests the competitors' skills in that situation. The senior members of the club follow along behind the competitors in the Kanzaki family van, and if they judge a member unable to continue the race, they will pick him up.
The winner is also designated by the club captain to manage the rest of the first-years. Kinjou and Imaizumi won in their respective Welcome Races and were given this responsibility.
It was mentioned that two years before the start of the series, Kinjou won the welcome race, while Tadokoro came in last.
Year 1 Race
The First-Year Welcome Race that takes place in Onoda's first-year lasts from Ride 17 to Ride 33. It begins on the first day that Onoda, Naruko, and Sugimoto join the club. Imaizumi thinks to himself that Onoda joining today of all days is a terribly unfortunate bit of timing, perhaps worried that he might become discouraged and drop out of the club because of the race. After the six first-year members are assembled, the club's captain, Kinjou, announces that the race will begin in 40 minutes. Tadokoro hands Onoda a spare racing helmet in Sohoku's colors, which he wears for the rest of the series. On Kinjou's verbal prodding, Sugimoto, Kawada Takuya and Sakurai Gou rush out to get ready. Onoda tells Imaizumi that he's happy he gets to ride with him again so soon, which Imaizumi recognizes as an honest reaction. Naruko on the other hand immediately gets into a strong rivalry with him.
Outside, the first-years warm up by riding stationary. As most are using rollers, Onoda is about to do the same when Miki and Sugimoto try to convince him not to. Miki points out Kawada and Sakurai using stationary turbo trainers to elevate and secure their rear wheels instead; using a roller is like riding on ice, and after three weeks both still fall from rollers. However, Onoda says it's okay because he's used to falling anyway; he mounts up and to everyone's surprise he demonstrates excellent balance, successfully riding the rollers on his first try.
Kinjou had asked the Kanzaki family's shop to supply Onoda with a road racer, but the van gets stuck in traffic and does not arrive before the race begins. This means that Onoda must ride his utility bicycle, which is not made for races. Kinjou also established the rules of the race; since the first 13km are inside the city where there are traffic lights, the first-years are supposed to stay in a group behind Imaizumi. However, Kawada grows restless and overtakes him. Imaizumi sticks to the rules when Sakurai and Sugimoto object, explaining to them that the ride through town is meant to be a warm-up section and he's going slow for their benefit. Once they exit the city he and Naruko, to the shock of the others, will accelerate to 20km/hr. Naruko falls back to advise Onoda to endure the sections he's not good at to give his all on the part he excels, and thus he will catch up. Back at the school Kanzaki Tooji finally arrives to pick up Miki and the third-years, explaining that there was an accident he got stuck behind.
Once out of town Imaizumi and Naruko speed on ahead while the others increase their pace, but Onoda falls behind because as Sugimoto explains, his bicycle only has two gears and is much heavier than the average road racer. Desperate to catch up, he pedals too fast and derails his chain. The van catches up with him, causing him to panic at first, but finds out that he is being supplied with a road racer. Five minutes after this intervention, Onoda's spirits are lifted and he has the means to compete with the others. Climbing the mountain he passes Sakurai, Sugimoto, and Kawada in order to catch up to his friends Imaizumi and Naruko.
Though Onoda is now determined to catch up to the two in front, Makishima does not believe that he can do it. As team climber, Makishima points out the eight-minute difference between Onoda and the other two and calculates that he would need to increase his cadence from 90 to 100 if he wants to reach the top. Tadokoro comments that Onoda should already be reaching his limit since 90 rpm on a slope is already impressive enough. Kinjou leans out of the van to give Onoda the water bottle he forgot earlier and to lay out his options. He can either continue at his current pace and finish the race in third place, a quite respectable placing, or increase his cadence and catch up to Imaizumi and Naruko before running out of steam and not finishing; however, instead of the increase of 10 that Makishima calculated, to the surprise of the others Kinjou tells Onoda he must increase his cadence by 30. Onoda immediately chooses the latter option and increases his cadence accordingly to 120.
In the meantime, Imaizumi and Naruko have been using the race to scope each other out. Each of them knows that the other is talented, but not to what extent. Imaizumi does not want to lose even a casual batter after being defeated by Midousuji. Naruko made a promise to his friends that he would make a characteristically flashy debut in his new home, so naturally, he also wants to take first place. As the two are climbing Mount Minegayama, they pass an odd spectator who appears to be a Caucasian foreigner. After the man falls over for the second time, the two dismount their bicycles and go to his aid. The man tells them to continue their race, then surprises them with some professional advice on how to improve their performance, and then informs them that someone is catching up. He found out this last bit of information because Kinjou called him, so Imaizumi and Naruko infer that he is the club's coach. They are correct; though he was not introduced by name, this was Mr. Pierre's first appearance.
Onoda manages to maintain his 120 cadence on the climb. Miki admires his straightforwardness and willpower, which allow him to do what others think is impossible, like a miracle. Imaizumi and Naruko have different reactions to the information Mr. Pierre gave them; Imaizumi runs through the list of all the first-years competing and isn't sure who could be their pursuer, while Naruko believes that Onoda is definitely the one coming to catch them. Not long after, Onoda finally catches up to them. Onoda is happy to the point of tears, and Imaizumi and Naruko both get a motivation boost from seeing him.
Naruko decides to pull ahead, revealing his "sprint climb" technique that he would have preferred to keep hidden for longer. He shifts his body weight forward, holds on to the lower handlebars, and shifts to a heavier gear to sprint despite being on a slope. Not wanting to be left behind, Imaizumi also decides to make his move, though he plans to read the rhythm of the slope and use gear shifting strategies to climb. Onoda accelerates to keep up with them, smiling as he usually does.
Things turn sour for Naruko when they reach an increase in incline, and as his sprint climb technique can't handle incline changes, he falls back. Concerned, Onoda slows down to ride beside him, but Naruko tells him to continue on ahead. He also encourages Onoda by telling him that his strength lies in climbing and that he should use that strength to overtake Imaizumi, in Naruko's stead. The third-years in the van also notice Onoda's natural climbing talent. Tadokoro thinks that Onoda might "do the impossible" and beat Imaizumi, but Kinjou says that Onoda lacks skill as a climber. However, it turns out that Naruko taught Onoda an important climbing skill, though the identity of the technique is not revealed yet. Imaizumi recognizes that it doesn't really matter if he takes the "King of the Mountains" title because there are still two stages left afterwards, but he is determined not to lose any race. Miki has a flashback to when they first met as children. Imaizumi was a reticent child who felt that he "must win" because then no one can complain about him. He also says he likes being in front during races because that's the only place where it's quiet. Miki also notes that Imaizumi used to be much more aggressive during races but became calmer as the years passed; however, he reverts back to this hotheadedness when he races with Onoda.
Imaizumi himself recognizes how pumped up he is getting, and even chooses to ignore the heart rate monitor on his cyclocomputer. He pulls ahead, only to have Onoda catch up to him fairly quickly. Onoda realized the only way he has to close the distance was to increase his cadence, so he did so by another 30, totaling 150. Onoda is motivated both by his own desire to win and by the promise he made to Naruko. With 300m left until the summit Imaizumi begins using his dancing technique. Onoda then reveals what Naruko taught him earlier; he increased the gear by two and stands up on the bike, preparing to use his own form of the dancing technique. Makishima, who had previously refused to believe in the possibility of Onoda winning, cheers for Onoda loudly after seeing this. Putting in a last burst of strength, Onoda yells some of the lyrics to the Love Hime song he usually sings while climbing. With this, he passes Imaizumi and makes it to the top first, earning the "King of the Mountains" title. The spectators in the van are shocked and marvel at Onoda's victory.
However, this climbing battle took a lot out of Onoda, and he falls off his bike by the side of the road shortly after. Tadokoro tries to encourage Onoda to continue despite his fatigue, but Kinjou comes over to help Onoda up, praises him for a job well done, and retires him from the race. Naruko passes by and gives Onoda a high five, telling Onoda to leave the rest to him. Mr. Pierre offers Onoda a clean jersey and asks if Onoda had fun. Onoda puts on the jersey and replies that it was tough, but he had fun in the race. Unbeknownst to him, the jersey he was given is the spotted King of the Mountains jersey. While Kinjou made it clear that Onoda would not have the energy to finish if he raced for the summit from last place, he and the other third-years consider Onoda's feat the greatest accomplishment in Welcome Race history.
Storing Onoda's road racer in the van, they take off to catch up with Imaizumi and Naruko, which they do as the shadows lengthen from late afternoon to early evening. Sitting beside Kinjou, Onoda is told to take this opportunity to watch them carefully so he can learn how to improve his riding and get stronger. Riding as hard as they can to the finish line, Imaizumi edges out Naruko to take the win and they allow themselves to collapse in the adjacent parking lot, gasping for air. Kinjou, Tadokoro and Miki check up on them while Onoda hangs back, feeling discouraged that his best wasn't anything like the finish he just witnessed. However, Makishima recognizes the look on his face and gives him some encouraging words. The difference in skill is only natural because he hasn't had nearly the same amount of training or experience. Makishima, a climber, also understands that he may feel like he got left behind in the mountains. In any case, Onoda just has to keep riding and training, and the more he pedals the stronger he'll become. Onoda decides to himself that he'll greatly increase his riding and that he will increase his skill level so that he'll be on equal footing with his friends.
Year 2 Race
Before the race begins, Sugimoto approaches Teshima and asks if he can participate in the First-Year Welcome Race along with the new club members. As Onoda watches the first-years around him, he reflects on his own experiences in the race and the friends he has made since then. He remarks that, though he is not participating, everyone else’s nervousness has spread to him. He then thinks back to a conversation with Naruko about them becoming second-years, and remembers the graduation party they held for Kinjou and Tadokoro. Naruko said that they should pass on the feelings they got from their senpai to the new kouhai in the club. However, Onoda has a bit of trouble figuring out how to do this. He approaches some of the first-years with good intentions, but accidentally ends up scaring them. After Onoda makes several failed attempts to reach out to his kouhai, Teshima appears and asks him if he wants to announce the start of the race. Onoda refuses at first, saying something like that is the captain’s job, but Teshima tells Onoda that he became something of a living legend after last year’s race. Teshima and Imaizumi manage to convince Onoda to start the race, and Imaizumi tells him to get his feelings across to the new members. Onoda decides to go around and shake the hand of each first-year, telling him to do his best in the race. After Onoda announces the start, he notices Sugimoto among the crowd and calls out to him. Sugimoto reveals that he received permission to race from Teshima, and that they have an agreement: if Sugimoto wins the race, he will join the Inter High team. When Onoda asks Teshima about this while Imaizumi is in earshot, Imaizumi remembers when Sugimoto came to him for advice. The third-years and second-years, along with the Kanzaki siblings, get in the van to follow along behind the racers.
Sugimoto quickly makes his way to the front of the pack, where he announces the rule about staying together until they leave the city. He also copies Imaizumi’s line from last year’s race; he tells the first-years that, once they leave the city, he plans to increase his speed by another 20 km/h. He thinks about how he cannot place third like he did last year. He needs to go after first place, something he has not accomplished before. Naruko comments to Onoda and Imaizumi that Sugimoto will have some enemies in the race. Onoda asks who these enemies would be, and Naruko names Sawada and “Gorizou” (a nickname). He says that the two are sprinters. They have already approached Sugimoto and said that increasing by only 20km/h seems too slow. Gorizou says that Sugimoto should raise his pace. The two then pass Sugimoto, who speeds up and tries to call them back. Just then, the traffic light color changes, so the rest of the first-years have to stop. Sugimoto and the two sprinters continue ahead; Sugimoto keeps trying to convince them to stop. The sprinters turn it around and try to convince Sugimoto to go ahead with them. Sugimoto refuses, saying that he is a man who will not break rules.
It seems that Sugimoto was able to convince Sawada and Gorizou to go back, as they are later seen among the other cyclists. They are surprised at a pair going at an even higher pace than they are. That pair consists of Kaburagi Issa and Danchiku Ryuuhou. When Teshima notices that they are pulling ahead, he comments that they are this race’s favorites. The first-year pair previously made a request of Teshima: if they win in a “one-two” fashion, they will both join the Inter High team. This is a surprising condition for Teshima to agree to, as this would require pushing out one of those assumed to be part of the team (Onoda, Imaizumi, Naruko, Teshima, and Aoyagi).
Once the race “really” starts, the pack becomes scattered. Naruko and Teshima reach out to help some first-years they pass in the van. Naruko calls out to Sawada and Gorizou, asking why they’re not doing better in the race. They tell him about Kaburagi and Danchiku pulling ahead. When Onoda hears this, he has a flashback to when Kaburagi apologized for not recognizing him at first. The other first-years are shocked at how far ahead Kaburagi and Danchiku are going, but then notice that one person intends to catch up to them.
Back in the Kanzaki van, Onoda seems to think that the race has already been decided- Kaburagi will be the victor. Imaizumi says that Onoda himself surprised everyone in last year’s race, so he shouldn’t count Sugimoto out yet. Of course, the person wearing the Sohoku jersey that the first-years previously noticed is Sugimoto. Sugimoto is determined to place first in the race and become one of the 6 Inter High members, so he does his best to keep up with Kaburagi and Danchiku. The van follows behind the three competitors in front, and Imaizumi surprises Onoda and Naruko by smiling and saying that Sugimoto has not shown his true strength yet. After Imaizumi says this, Sugimoto passes Kaburagi and Danchiku.
As Sugimoto pulls ahead, he thinks back to his talk with Imaizumi before the race. He also reflects on how he knew of Imaizumi even before entering Sohoku, and thought of Imaizumi as someone far beyond his own level. However, they ended up going to the same high school and joining the same club. Sugimoto dreams of working together with Imaizumi during the Inter High as his assist and being able to carry Imaizumi to the finish line. In order to achieve that dream, he must place first in the current race. Though Sugimoto has gone far ahead of the first-year pair, Onoda feels that Kaburagi and Danchiku still haven’t given up, and Imaizumi affirms this idea. He says that, in a race, positions can change quickly.
Kaburagi has a bad feeling about letting Sugimoto go ahead, and he expresses this to Danchiku. In response, Danchiku is freed from his figurative “shackles” and begins to pull Kaburagi along. Kaburagi admits that Sugimoto is probably a lot faster than he thought, but remains confident that he and Danchiku are even faster. Teshima brings up the mark on Kaburagi and Danchiku’s jerseys that reads “Team SS.” He says the team started out small, but eventually gathered strong members. The team has members ranging from middle school students to adults and developed into a powerhouse team. The “SS” in the team name stands for “Speed Shot.” Onoda is worried about Sugimoto after hearing this, and just as this discussion is finished, the first-years catch up to and then pass Sugimoto.
Sugimoto appears to be losing hope as he watches the two first-years pass him, but Imaizumi yells to him, telling him to give chase. He leans out of the van as it pulls up beside Sugimoto and offers him words of encouragement, saying he hasn’t lost yet. Imaizumi places his hand on Sugimoto’s shoulder and says that, when you’re in a tight spot, just think that your opponent must definitely be in a tight spot too. Sugimoto continues on with renewed passion, grateful for Imaizumi’s support. Back in the van, Naruko teases Imaizumi about losing his cool and shouting. Onoda expresses his feelings in a more innocent way, saying that Imaizumi’s words made him happy too. Imaizumi appears flustered, and just says that it seemed like the time to offer support. Kanzaki Tooji thinks that Imaizumi’s actions exemplify the Sohoku spirit, while Miki thinks that Imaizumi has always been a pretty passionate person. Naruko asks Imaizumi if he thinks Sugimoto will win the race, and Imaizumi answers that he doesn’t really have any special expectations of Sugimoto, he just wants the team to become stronger.
Sugimoto has taken Imaizumi’s words to heart, and he tells himself to focus on catching up. He thinks that when he rounds the next curve, he will be able to see the first-years, but they went farther ahead than he thought. He momentarily doubts himself again, but recalls Imaizumi’s words and reminds himself that his opponents are also in a tight spot. Back in the van, Kanzaki and Teshima agree that they should pass Sugimoto to follow the first-years up front. Onoda protests, but Teshima says that, realistically, Sugimoto cannot catch up to the first-years. Sugimoto calls out for the van to wait as it passes, but it continues ahead. Confused and hurt, Sugimoto stops riding altogether. Onoda notices that Sugimoto stopped, and asks Teshima if they could stop the van to lend a hand, but Teshima reminds him that this is a race. Onoda turns to Imaizumi next, but Imaizumi just says that he thought Sugimoto would be able to do a bit more. Sugimoto’s younger brother Sadatoki catches up to him and calls out a greeting with high spirits. Sadatoki says that he heard Sugimoto was in the race too, but Sugimoto was fast and pulled ahead quickly. Sugimoto asks if Sadatoki came alone, and Sadatoki answered that he came because he wanted to ride together.
Kaburagi notices the van has come up behind him and Danchiku, so he exclaims that there is no longer a threat from behind. Danchiku says that Kaburagi seems like a kid because he’s so excited, and Kaburagi responds that of course he’s excited in this situation. He even loudly declares that he is a kid. Kaburagi looks forward to seeing what kind of people are in the Inter High. He remembers his father inviting him to the 40th Summer Inter High two years ago. He initially wasn’t that interested, but he was shocked at the speed and strength of the competitors. It was then that Kaburagi decided he would definitely compete in the Inter High when he entered high school. His current goal is to dominate the upcoming Inter High (along with Danchiku).
Kaburagi falls back and calls out to Teshima, making sure Teshima didn’t forget their promise that if Kaburagi and Danchiku take first and second place in the race, they will both join the Inter High team. Naruko and Onoda are surprised to hear of this promise, because if both first-years are allowed on the Inter High team, one of the upperclassmen will be kicked off. Onoda assumes he would be the one kicked out, so he tells everyone to do their best without him. Kaburagi calls out to Onoda and tells him that he watched last year’s Inter High and was so impressed by the race for the final goal line that he can’t express it in words. Kaburagi also declares that he plans to surpass Onoda in this year’s Inter High. He then asks what Onoda’s goal is for the upcoming Inter High, prompting him with the idea of complete victory. Onoda responds by saying it’s alright even if he doesn’t win as long as he gets to ride together with his teammates and give a good report to his senpai (Makishima in particular). Imaizumi and Naruko approve of Onoda’s idea and Teshima tells Kaburagi that Sohoku’s policy is just to never give up. He also warns Kaburagi that if Sugimoto has decided not to give up on victory, he will catch up. Kaburagi doesn’t believe him, but still decides to stop talking and ride seriously. However, just as Teshima said, Sugimoto and Sadatoki are close to catching up.
Sadatoki is in front, pulling his older brother along, something that surprises even Teshima. Naruko, Onoda, and Imaizumi also react to Sugimoto’s unexpected return. Naruko and Imaizumi take note of how well the brothers are synchronizing with each other. Sugimoto thinks about how grateful he is that Sadatoki appeared at that time because he might have given up otherwise. When Sugimoto asked Sadatoki to help him catch up to Kaburagi and Danchiku, Sadatoki immediately agreed, saying he would overcome any mountain for his older brother’s sake. Sadatoki says that Sugimoto has always helped him and taught him things, so he wants to do his best to grant the first favor Sugimoto has asked of him. Sadatoki also says that he thinks Sugimoto looks cool in the Sohoku jersey. Sugimoto thinks to himself that Sadatoki was always quick to cry and didn’t have confidence, but he can do anything now.
The Sugimoto brothers catch up to Kaburagi and Danchiku with 50m left until the summit of Minegayama. Both pairs speed up as they get closer to the goal line. Kaburagi and Danchiku pull ahead when they come out of a turn, but the Sugimoto brothers stay on their heels. Kaburagi is shocked because he didn’t think much of Sugimoto or Sadatoki, yet they pass him and Danchiku. Everyone watching in the van is excited, and they entertain the idea of Sugimoto winning. Danchiku notices Kaburagi is distracted and punches him, telling him to focus. Danchiku assures Kaburagi that he doesn’t have to worry because he is fast, and calls him a “genius.” Kaburagi laughs and says he knows, pulling ahead of Sugimoto again. Sugimoto knows he is bad with sprints, but he must overcome that weakness in order to win.
Mr. Pierre is waiting at the goal line, and after reading a text that says there are four people competing for the goal, he says that Sohoku appears to have a passionate team again this year. Sadatoki falls behind the other three during the final sprint, and Danchiku tells Issa to go ahead. When Danchiku sees Sugimoto passing him, he tells Kaburagi not to worry about him. As he rides, Sugimoto thanks Sadatoki and Imaizumi for their support. He thinks that he hasn’t done anything yet, which is why he wants to take first place. Kaburagi and Sugimoto remain neck and neck until they cross the goal line.
Kaburagi finishes first, but Sugimoto was looking down and falls off his bike afterwards, so he is under the mistaken impression that he won. The other Sohoku members are at a loss over what to do. Imaizumi embraces Sugimoto, telling him he worked hard. When Sugimoto notices how serious everyone else looks and sees Kaburagi and Danchiku celebrating, he figures out that he’s not the one who won. Onoda and Naruko praise him for an amazing race, but Sugimoto breaks out laughing and makes a big show of being okay with losing. When Onoda protests to Teshima about Sugimoto not making the Inter High team, Sugimoto stops Onoda and tells him that he entered the race prepared for that possibility.
When Sugimoto says that he didn’t manage to do anything, Imaizumi cuts in and says that Sugimoto should take pride in this race, as he competed at his strongest. Sugimoto thanks Imaizumi and apologizes before riding off alone to cry.
Naruko chides Sawada and Gorizou for finishing the race in 12th and 13th place, saying that they finished 20 minutes after the leaders. Teshima and Aoyagi approach Kaburagi and Danchiku after the race, and Teshima tells them that only Kaburagi will be joining the Inter High team. Their agreement was that Kaburagi and Danchiku would both join if they finished in first and second place, but Danchiku finished third. When Kaburagi went to thank Sugimoto for a good race, Sugimoto asked Kaburagi to give Imaizumi a push on the back during the Inter High. This is something Sugimoto imagined himself doing, but Kaburagi will be the one racing in the Inter High. Kaburagi has newfound respect for Sugimoto, so he agrees to this request.