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Shepherd wears a cycling jersey

sports / Cycling
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Shepherd wears a cycling jersey

With uncommon dedication, three-time Tour winner Jess Garcia Jr. brings local bikathon’s traditional capital back to life

MANGALDAN, Pangasinan—At 71, three-time Tour champion Jesus “Jess” Garcia Jr. remains active in cycling races in this province. But he no longer rides his bike; he directs races, a role he has performed with uncommon dedication since 1994, a year after he returned to his hometown here after a 16-year stay in the United States.

“I’m doing this because I’d like Pangasinan to reclaim its reputation as the hotbed of Philippine cycling,” the meztizo Garcia says. “For so long a time, we dominated major cycling races, individually and as a team.”

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Since 1957, when Rufino Gabot became the first Pangasinense to win the gruelling Tour of Luzon, 12 more cyclists, including Garcia, have achieved acclaim, giving the province 24 championship trophies in the annual summer cycling spectacle.

Mamerto Eden followed in Gabot’s footsteps in 1959 before Edmundo de Guzman struck in 1962, Gonzalo Recodos won in 1963 and Teodorico Rimarim ruled in 1974. Samson Etrata kept the title for Pangasinan in 1975, with Modesto Bonzo making it three in a row for the province with his victory in 1976. Bonzo was followed by back-to-back winner Jacinto Sicam (1981-1982), Romeo Bonzo (1983), Ruben Cariño (1984), Pepito Calip (1985) and Bernardo Llentada (1991).

“Cycling has since deteriorated in Pangasinan because we lack races,” Garcia laments. “During our time, there were a lot of races and we would join those in other provinces. This is why there are only a few from Pangasinan now who are well known in cycling.”

Garcia, the 1973 Tour of Luzon champion, vanished from the professional cycling scene when he moved to the US in 1978, a few months after winning the Marlboro Tour of Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and the Tour of Picca (Philippine Industrial Commercial Cycling Association) in 1977.

It was a hard decision to make at the time, Garcia recalls, because he had to choose between his rising pro career and seeing his father, who had petitioned him seven years earlier.

His father and namesake is Mexican-American, a soldier who was part of the liberation forces of American General Douglas MacArthur during the Lingayen Gulf landings in 1945.

Pizza delivery man

Garcia worked as a bike mechanic in California and later as a sales representative and pizza delivery man before moving with his family to Guam. He recalls joining a cycling race in Santa Barbara, California, but found the Americans stronger and technically superior.

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While in Guam, he won the US territory’s annual cycling tour in 1983 and 1984. Two years earlier, he had returned briefly to Pangasinan to join the Marlboro Tour but finished a disappointing 16th.

His break as a race organizer came in 1994 when a friend introduced him to then-Pangasinan Rep. Oscar Orbos, who wanted to revive bikathons in the province.

In December that year, Enrique Domingo, a young cyclist from San Carlos City who would win the Sprint title in the Marlboro Tour, ruled the first cycling race Garcia directed.

From 1994 to 1998, when Orbos finished his term as Pangasinan governor, Garcia directed a total of 26 races.

“There wasn’t a year then when we didn’t have a cycling race in the province,” Garcia says. “There was even a year when I had 14 races.”

He continued to organize cycling races until 2001, with government officials as sponsors. Later, the races became few and far between because of the huge expenses that every race required.

It was also in 2001 when he decided to park his bike for good after a “kuliglig” (hand tractor) almost crushed him while he was on his way home from a routine physical fitness ride.

Last month, Garcia organized a cycling race sponsored by Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino III. This was five years after he last directed a similar event.
Potential champions

Garcia still believes that cyclists can only hone their skills, individually and collectively, through regular races.

With an astute eye for talent, Garcia says that among the province’s potential cycling champions are Ronald Oranza, Jay Lampawog, Bonjo Martin of Villasis town, Domique Perez of Santo Tomas town, brothers Joshua and Daniel Cariño of Mangaldan town, Mark Julius Bonzo, son of 1983 Tour champion Romeo Bonzo of Sual town, and Mark Julius Burgos of Laoac town.

“We have a good pool of talents,” he says. “It’s just a matter of training them. Champions are not born, they are developed. And they all need government support,” he said.

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TAGS: Cycling, Jesus “Jess” Garcia Jr
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