Nozomi Ito is swapping her nurse’s uniform for Lycra as part of an intensive training regime to reach her goal of becoming a professional track cyclist.

Ito, 28, who works at an ophthalmic clinic in Hakodate, Hokkaido, is one of three people to have been selected as a trainee by the Hakodate Municipal Government and the Japan Professional Cyclist Union’s Hokkaido branch.

The three are set to take an admission test in October for Nihon Keirin Gakkou, Japan’s professional cyclist training facility in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which has been competitive in recent years.

Cycling is one of the four authorized public gambling sports in Japan. Races are organized by municipal governments.

Every year, the Izu facility admits about 20 female trainees through technical and talent tests for a 12-month training program.

Trainees can become professionals after passing national exams. Currently there are about 100 professional female cyclists competing in races across the country.

The Hakodate bicycle racetrack, which has seen a decline in visitor numbers, is seeking to nurture female cyclists in a bid to attract back fans.

Ito rides a bicycle in the early hours every morning before going to the clinic at the racetrack in the port city.

At 158 cm tall, Ito may be short for a female cyclist but her thighs, the most important body part for a cyclist, are becoming stronger as a result of hard training since April.

Ito first watched a bicycle race three years ago after being taken to the track by an acquaintance. She later learned about women’s races and that some female cyclists are capable of pedaling at almost the same speed as men.

Last summer, Ito met by chance at a bar a female cyclist she had long admired. Ito told the cyclist about how she was completing half marathons and the cyclist suggested Ito should aspire to be a professional.

Currently, Ito trains about three to seven hours a day on weekends, but only one hour on weekdays.

But Shoya Yabushita, 57, a former cyclist and coach for the Hakodate trainees, said, “From time to time, she chalks up a faster speed than the two others who have more training time.”

Ito, who is sometimes asked to assist in surgery at the eye clinic, said there are times when it is hard to find time to practice, but she has never skipped morning training.

In May, she pedaled 1,000 meters in 1 minute and 28 seconds, about 9 seconds faster than her previous record marked in April. She aims to shorten the time to less than 1 minute and 20 seconds by the October test.

“I’m looking to be a cyclist who can take the first move and hold on to the lead up to the finish line,” Ito said. “I will surely pass the school test and become a cyclist.”

“And I would like to win a race at my home track someday,” she added.

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