MANGALDAN, Pangasinan—The cyclist who nearly broke a time trial world mark by the great Jacques Anquetil lives 23 kilometers away from here.
On a lot across a corn field stands the house of another biking giant. Half a kilometer to the east lives yet another big wheel in the cult of the chain.
Welcome to Mangaldan, Pangasinan—cradle of cycling champions.
This abattoir town has no dedicated training race course for cyclists. Its pedalists thrive on the fly. An itinerant schedule is their source of strength.
“Mangaldan and the whole of Pangasinan is quite simply the home of cycling,” brags Jesus Garcia Jr., twice champion of the Tour of Luzon—considered PH’s version of the fabled Tour de France which Anquetil won a then unmatched five times, in 1957 and from 1961-1964.
Garcia and Samson Cariño are practically neighbors in Barangay Buenlag here. Cariño captured the rival Picaa Tour in 1975. His kid brother Ruben won the 1984 Marlboro Tour, one of the original Tour’s alterations through the years. Another Mangaldan native, Cesar Catambay captured second place in the 1973 and 1974 Tour of Luzon and in the Marlboro in 1983.
Now a sports reporter in Dagupan City, Garcia was Tour victor in 1973 and 1977. He keeps in touch with the living members of Pangasinan’s brotherhood of 19 professional cycling champions who turned their sport into a much-awaited summer spectacle for the masses.
He invited Samson Cariño and his distant nephew, 2013 Ronda Pilipinas overall sixth placer El Joshua Cariño for a chat last Sunday night. The next day, we drove to Lingayen in search of the younger Cariño and 1962 Tour titlist Edmundo de Guzman. We found De Guzman but not Ruben.
At 74, De Guzman still pedals to Alaminos, 40 kilometers from Pangasinan’s capital at least once a month. He keeps fit with hand grips he clicked while we talked. He says he would climb coconut trees in his yard sometimes to remain agile.
In the 1960 Tour, De Guzman almost shattered the Frenchman Anquetil’s then world record pace of 47.05 kilometers per hour in the individual time trial. De Guzman was only three seconds off Anquetil’s feat after that year’s race against the clock from Urdaneta to Calasiao.
“We, the oldtimers did not get stuck on a course because we never had one,” De Guzman said. “We pedaled on all kinds of roads in Pangasinan, Zambales and the foothills to build chemistry and strength the young guns with their feather-like titanium bikes and high tech-training today still don’t have.”
Garcia says current Pangasinan riders are also workhorses, but the truest gauge of any rider’s success is the ability to climb mountains.
“Ronald Oranza dominated for a while in this year’s Ronda, but his lack of a kick in the peaks pulled him down,” observed Garcia, the king of the hills in the 1975 Picaa. Oranza, a media-scared 19-year-old from Villasis town, eventually finished third overall.
“The ultimate success for cyclists young and old is winning without cheating,” says former Pangasinan Gov. Oscar Orbos.
Orbos, a fan of his province’s cycling heroes, counting a couple he helped discover, was referring to doping scandals that have smeared the world of sports.