TUGUEGARAO CITY – Mail and More rider Oscar Rendole won more than just the yellow jersey when he topped the first stage of the 2012 Le Tour de Filipinas by clocking in at 3 hours, 44 minutes and 40 seconds over the course of the 155.75-kilometer stage that ended in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan.
With the win, Rendole became the first Filipino ever to win a lap in a race sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
A still panting Rendole failed to recognize his feat when he addressed Filipino reporters immediately after the race. He briefly acknowledged being the first Filipino to win a Le Tour de Filipinas stage in its current inception, but not as the first ever to win a UCI stage.
“First Filipino sa Le Tour. Oo,” said the 26-year-old Novo Ecijano from the municipality of Guimba.
Merculio Ramos wore yellow in the Le Tour de Langkawi years ago, but only did so because the prologue of the UCI-sanctioned Malaysian race was neutralized due to traffic confusion.
Clocking in at just two seconds behind Rendole were foreign riders Koos Jeroen Kers of Dutch Global Team at second, Germany’s Timo Scholz of CCN Cycling Team at third and James Williamson of BikeNZ-PureBlack at fifth. Filipino Rudy Roque of local team American Vinyl LPGMA was fourth with the same time.
A large group of 24 riders pulled away from the rest of the field by the 91st km and mostly stayed in front for the rest of the way.
At the 127-km mark, Rendole and Malaysian Sea Keong Loh pushed for a two-man breakaway and distanced themselves from the group. But with a little over 15 km left in the stage, several other riders caught up with the pair to form a 12-man lead pack nearing the end.
Six riders, including eventual lap winner Rendole, broke from the lead group with around 3 km left and Rendole outsprinted his rivals at the finish to accomplish his historic feat.
Rendole had respectable finishes in the Le Tour in the past, finishing eighth overall in the 2010 tour ruled by Ireland’s David McCann and 12th overall last year. He was fifth among Filipino riders in both years.
This is only his second lap win in major events after taking a leg in the 2009 race, before the event changed its name to the Le Tour de Filipinas and opened its doors to non-Asian cyclists for the first time.
His strong finish sprint also put him ahead in the sprint points side event, and his Mail and More team on top of the team standings with a time of 11:21:03, two seconds clear of Dutch Global Team and 13 seconds from American Vinyl LPGMA.
Fourth-place finisher Roque put himself in the lead for the Best Young Rider award and the white jersey that goes with it. The 21-year-old Roque was a member of the Philippine team that competed in the Under-23 Asian Cycling Championships earlier this year.
Filipino Baler Ravina of Go21 finished the leg seventh a couple of seconds behind sixth-placer Loh. Plan B Racing’s Bradeley Hall of Australia, Azamat Turaev of Uzbekistan Suren and Indonesia Rastra Patria of Colossi Miche round out the Top 10.
The high temperatures in Cagayan that were expected by some to bother the foreign riders didn’t seem to make much of an impact in the stage.
“Kayang kaya din nila ‘yung init,” Rendole observed. “Malalakas din sila. Pag may nakakawalang Pilipino, nagtutulungan mga foreigner.”
While several of the internationals performed well in the first leg, Joseph Cooper of BikeNZ-PureBlack had the misfortune of suffering a crash and was forced out of the four-stage race.
Though Rendole ruled the mostly flat leg with three intermediate sprints, he insisted he wasn’t a specialist and that he would be comfortable in the grueling climbs in the latter stages of the race.
Rendole held the early lead in the King of the Mountain event in last year’s Le Tour de Filipinas, taking the polka dot jersey at the end of Stages Two and Three before giving it up on the final stage of the tour.
“Depensa na lang bukas. Kasi ‘yung sampung breakaway, magkakalapit lang yung oras,” he said about race strategy going forward. “Bale sa Baguio na lang magkakatalo ‘yan.”
Baguio will be the final destination of the fourth stage of the Le Tour, and will feature several King of the Mountain summits.
Tomorrow’s Stage Two will be a 103.3-km ride from Tuguegarao to Cauayan City in Isabela that will again feature multiple intermediate sprints along a mostly flat terrain.
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