All eyes on Lebas, Galedo as Le Tour pedals off with crucial ascent
LEGAZPI CITY—Thomas Lebas is a strong climber with an uncanny ability to efficiently ride solo even on the most demanding peaks.
One can only imagine what the seasoned Frenchman can do on the largely flat courses that the race organizers have laid out in this year’s Le Tour de Filipinas presented by Air21.
Lebas, the 2015 champion of the only International Cycling Union (UCI) road race in the country, will banner a tough field of mostly foreign riders as the four-day bikathon kicks off Saturday in this charming city on the fringes of the famed Mayon Volcano.
They’ll race for 164.5 kilometers (km) in the first stage going to Sorsogon City, a route that includes a steep climb at Bulusan Volcano Park near the finish.
That 5 km Category 1 ascent could establish the complexion of the race with mountain specialists such as Lebas of Japan’s Kinan Cycling Team and 2014 Le Tour champ Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven Sava-Road Bike Philippines expected to exploit the climb.
“We have to work as a team and try to break away if there’s an opportunity,” said Galedo.
The three-time Tour champion has a reliable support crew in Rustom Lim, Arjay Peralta, Spanish Edgar Nieto and Australian Craig Evers at 7-Eleven Sava-RBP, the only continental team based in the Philippines.
7-Eleven Sava-RBP and the Philippine national team, which will be led by George Oconer, John Renee Mier and Jerry Aquino Jr., will race against 13 foreign squads in the Tour backed by Petron, UPS, Philippine Airlines, Advanced Solutions Inc., Cargohaus Inc., CCN Sports Philippines, IWMI, NMM Customs Broker, Phenom Sportswear, UFL Philippines and WARM.
“It will not be easy but new cycling heroes are expected to emerge,” said PhilCycling chair Alberto Lina, who will flag off the 75 riders with Ube Media president and Le Tour organizer Donna May Lina, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal and Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara.
After a punishing opening stage, the cyclists will travel 177.35 km from Sorsogon to Naga City on mostly undulating and flat roads with a low-level climb halfway through the course.
Stage 3 is another flat route covering 178 km going to Daet, Camarines Norte, before the race ends on Tuesday with a long back-breaking ride to Lucena City made doubly harder by a zig-zagging, mid-level ascent in Atimonan, 28 km before the finish.