By Jerome Lagunzad
Top local cyclists and their cracked foreign counterparts are set to conquer the so-called “Cradle of Philippine cycling” when the 9th Le Tour de Filipinas brings its act back to the heart of Luzon from May 20 to 23.
Instead of Bicol and Southern Luzon regions, all 80 riders from 16 competing teams will have to negotiate the dreaded roads of Central Luzon up to the mountain-top city of Baguio that will cover a total distance of 638.3 kilometers for four days, the only Union Cycliste International-sanctioned road race in the country.
“Every year, we try to make this race an international-caliber and we are very proud to do this because we want to be sanctioned internationally. We want to have a world class race for our local riders to race side by side with foreign cyclists,” said LTdF chairman Donna May Lina yesterday during the event’s press launch at the Palacio de Manila in Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
Although the annual race presented by Air21 and co-presented by Cignal was rescheduled after it was postponed last February due to the possible eruption of Mayon Volcano, race organizers expressed confidence that a wire-to-wire battle is still in store among all protagonists bidding to gain the coveted UCI points that will boost their bid to qualify for the world championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We made it a point that all four stages are technically measured,” said PhilCycling road and track commission chairman Jun Lomibao, who also shared center stage with LTdF founder Bert Lina and Sunshine Mendoza, the country’s first female national commissaire for road race.
“The foreign teams that were invited were practically the same teams which asked to be invited earlier. These foreign teams really wanted to race in Le Tour. So we’re expecting high-caliber riders and a high level of competitions.
Everybody in Asia wants to get as much UCI points as possible.”
A relatively flat 151.32km opening stage from Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City to Palayan City, Nueva Ecija will test the initial mettle of all aspirants, followed by a punishing 157.90km trek from Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija up to Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya via Dalton Pass.
Then the title pursuit intensifies in the 174.5km Stage 3 that will start from Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya and will finish at Dagupan City, Pangasinan. The fourth and decisive stage will be the daunting 154.65km challenge from Lingayen, Pangasinan up to Baguio City that will pass through the fabled Kennon Road.