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3 vets lead PH charge in Le Tour

LEGASPI City — The Le Tour de Filipinas hits the road today with three grizzled Filipinos leading the country’s charge against a foreign team-laced eighth edition of the event that has become one of Asia Tour’s most sought after races.

Mark Galedo and Rustom Lim of 7 Eleven Road Bike Philippines wield the experience they reaped from riding against Tour de France champion Chris Froome in the Herald Sun Tour two weeks ago as they go up against a field of similarly title-hungry cyclists that include Frenchman Thomas Lebas of Kinan Cycling Team.

Galedo and Lebas have a common goal in this year’s edition again presented by Air21: Regain the crown they won in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Lebas failed to defend his title last year no thanks to a crash that booted him out, while Galedo was swarmed by riders from Kazakhstan who made the Le Tour de Filipinas as their final warm-up before climbing the more elite level of professional cycling.

“I wanted to win the crown again,” said the 31-year-old Galedo, who preferred to race at home instead of vying in the older Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia which starts a day after the Le Tour de Pilipinas ends.

“It’s my mission and I want it bad,” said the former Southeast Asian Games time trial gold medalist who today is considered a benchmark for up-and-coming Filipino cyclists.

If Lim equally gained precious experience competing against Froome especially in the climb, the Philippine National Team also has what it takes to do battle in the race organized by Ube Media Inc. under Donna May Lina and which has Petron and UPS as principal sponsors and Philippine Airlines as official airline partner.

“George is ripe for this race. He will be our main man on the national team,” national coach Bert Oconer said on the eve of the 164.49-km Stage One which will be flagged off by Legaspi City Mayor Noel Rosal and PhilCycling Chairman Bert Lina at the city’s Embarcadero promenda area and end in Sorsogon.

Rains are expected to still dampen the Bicol Region for the next three days, frustrating dozens of the foreign riders who have yet to see the majestic crown of Mayon Volcano. Friday was a busy day for everyone on the entourage, particularly the cyclists who had to “warm up” under a heavy drizzle.

Nevertheless, race manager Paquito Rivas, one of the most famous Filipino cyclists who owns the reputation as the Eagle of the Mountain, stressed the race will be exciting and heated as ever—rain or shine.

“The rain will bring out the best in the riders, it will test their ability to cope with the elements,” said Rivas, the 1997 Marlboro Tour champion.

Cash prizes are beyond secondary in the Le Tour de Filipinas, the only International Cycling Union (UCI) road race in the country. What matters most to the cyclists are the UCI ranking points that would open windows for their qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the World Championships.

“The objective in a UCI race is not to race for money, but to gain precious UCI points. It is never easy t qualify for Olympic cycling,” Donna May Lina said.

Also competing are Team Ikyo (Japan), Bridgrestone Anchor Cycling Team (Japan), Oliver’s Real Food Racing (Australia), Terengganu Cycling Team (Malaysia), LX Pro Cycling Team (South Korea), Uzbekistan National Team, CCN Cycling Team (Laos), Keyi Look Sport Cycling Team (China), United Arab Emirates National Team, Attaque Team Gusto (Chinese Taipei) and Sapura Cycling Team (Malaysia).

Sunday’s 177.35-km Two will be from Sorsogon to Naga City, Monday’s Stage three will be a 177.35-km Naga City to Daet race and Tuesday’s Stage Four will be a 207.30-km grind from Daet to Lucena City.