Grueling Le Tour de Filipinas blasts off today

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STA. ANA, Cagayan—Out to conquer a chain of unfamiliar roads ahead, a seasoned cast of local and foreign riders begins its four-day grind today in the 2012 Le Tour de Filipinas presented by Air21.

The kick-off stage of the  499.08 km test of endurance is a relatively flat 159.08 km speed challenge for the 80-rider field—tested veterans of local and international bikathons— from this scenic coastal town to Tuguegarao.

With defending champion Rahim Emami of Iran and 2010 winner David McCann skipping this year’s bikathon, the general classification derby will be a wide-open race among riders from five Filipino and 11 foreign teams.

Three-time local tour champion Santy Barnachea of Go21 spearheads the local challenge along with Cris Joven and Irish Valenzuela of American Vinyl-LPGMA, Smart National Team’s Lloyd Reynante, John Mark Galedo, Joel Calderon of Mail and More and Kia’s Renato Sambrano.

Air21 chair and cycling godfather Bert Lina and wife Sylvia will fire off the riders.

“The heat could spell the difference, and our local riders have a slight advantage,” said Le Tour organizer Gary Cayton of Dynamic Outsource Solutions Inc.

Temperature forecasts hover at 30 degrees Centigrade in the duration of the only local race sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale.

The foreign teams are CCN (Netherlands), Aisan Racing Team (Japan), OCBC (Singapore), Suren (Uzbekistan), Action (Chinese Taipei), Tabriz Petrochemical (Iran), and the Indonesian national team, as well as club squads Plan B (Australia), PureBlack Racing (New Zealand) and Colossi Miche (Indonesia).

Another fine test for speed specialists awaits the field in Stage 2, a 103.3 km ride from Tuguegarao to Cauayan City, Isabela.

The 104 km third stage from Bayombong City in Nueva Viscaya features a King of the Mountain summit, the prelude to the torturous ascent to Baguio City the next day.

Marked by a pair of grueling climbs to over 5,000 feet above sea level, Stage 4 is the backdoor route to Baguio with Ambuklao Dam and Mt. Pulag serving as backdrop.

The tour ends Tuesday at Burnham Park.

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