BAGUIO CITY – Filipino riders Baler Ravina of Go21 and Joel Calderon of Mail and More worked together on the steep mountain roads of Benguet as they overcame the challenge of the foreign riders on their way to ruling the fourth and final stage of the Le Tour de Filipinas.
The pair crossed the finish line with identical times of 4 hours, 36 minutes and six seconds, almost two minutes ahead of Malaysian Loh Sea Kong of OCBC Singapore Continental Team and over four minutes ahead of erstwhile overall leader Timo Scholz of CCN Cycling Team.
Calderon finished in front to take the stage win, but Ravina made up enough time on Scholz in the overall standings to move up and win the yellow jersey at the end of the four-stage tour.
Ravina now becomes the first Filipino to ever win a race sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The Le Tour de Filipinas, since acquiring its UCI sanction for the 2010 race, was ruled by foreign riders both of the years it had been staged.
Ireland’s David McCann and Iran’s Rahim Emami won the 2010 and 2011 tours, respectively.
Ravina’s previous best finish was in the 2007 tour, when he was runner-up to Victor Espiritu when the race was called Padyak Pinoy.
Calderon, on his part, becomes the third Filipino to win a stage in a UCI-sanctioned race following teammate Oscar Rendole of Mail and More and Arnel Quirimit of Go21 in the first two stages of the tour. Stage Three was the only lap won by a foreign rider, when Azamat Turaev of Uzbekistan Suren outsprinted everyone at the finish line in Bayombong City in Nueva Vizcaya.
Calderon won the Padyak Pinoy Tour of Champions in 2009, the last incarnation of the Le Tour race before earning its UCI sanction.
“Bale, ang plano namin magtulungan na yung mga Pilipino,” said race winner Ravina. The native of Asingan, Pangasinan won this year’s Le Tour without winning a single lap.
“Kung magkasama sa ahon, magtulungan na lang para maganda yung takbo,” he said.
“Nagtulungan kami ni Joel hanggang lumayo na kami ng lumayo, hanggang naagaw ko yung yellow jersey.”
The 133.83-kilometer stage started rough for the locals when an eight-man group that consisted of Quirimit and seven international riders broke away from the main pack in the flat area near the starting point.
And with the foreign riders maintaining a reported average speed of about 50 km per hour, Quirimit faded from the lead group within the first 12 km of the race.
By the time the leaders reached the first of the King of the Mountain summits, it was Turaev and KOM leader Feng Chun Kai of Action Cycling Team looking to make it a second one-two finish for them in a row after their result in the previous leg.
But Ravina was not that far behind, trailing the lead group with BikeNZ-PureBlack rider Louis Crosby and just a short distance ahead of Iranian Mohammad Gharehbaghi of Uzbekistan Suren.
Turaev began to slow down after the first KOM, while Ravina and Gharebaghi joined Feng in the lead group around 59 km into the stage. After a while, Feng began to tire as well, and Calderon took his place with the leaders.
At around the 103-km point, the Iranian started to slow and the Filipinos made their move.
“Pinilit ko na rin makawala nung nakita kong nahihirapan yung taga-Iran. Diniinan ko ng diniinan,” said Calderon. “Sabi ko nga kay Ravina, ‘Magtulungan na lang tayo para ikaw ang mag-champion, ako naman mag-runner-up.’”
The riders towed each other to the finish with a good lead over the nearest rider Loh but Calderon, who started the lap at 14th overall, could not make up the three minutes that Loh had on him, placing the Malaysian in second place overall.
Calderon finished third in the overall standings after four stages, with an overall time of 13:21:56. Ravina clocked in at 13:20:26 while Loh was merely 16 seconds behind with 13:20:42.
“Ito naman talaga yung inaabangan namin, yung lap ng Baguio,” said Calderon.
“Talagang pinangako ko sa sarili ko tsaka sa coach ko, ang pupuntiryahin ko talaga yung lap ng Baguio dahil ito talaga yun malaking kainan ng oras.”
Both Ravina and Calderon had the chance to do some advanced work on the route, and that made it easier for them in the actual race.
Calderon trained in Baguio for two weeks in preparation for the tour. Ravina and his teammates also paid a visit, running the Baguio route three weeks prior to the Le Tour’s opening.
“Nung unang ni-rota ko, mahirap,” Ravina said about the difficult climbs in Stage Four. “Eh nung kanina na, parang madali na dahil alam ko na siya.”
Ravina was also a three-time lap winner in the Baguio legs of the Padyak Pinoy series.
Another Filipino team found plenty to be happy about when American Vinyl LPGMA placed three riders in the top ten of the stage and took the overall team lead in the standings on the last day.
American Vinyl LPGMA, behind strong performances by Irish Valenzuela, Rustom Lim and Cris Joven, finished with a time of 40:28:48 while Mail and More and SMART took the second and third spots.
There were six Filipinos that placed in the top ten in Stage Four, with SMART’s John Mark Galedo finishing in sixth place, behind Scholz and Jeroen Kers and just ahead of Feng and the American Vinyl LPGMA trio.
In the side events, Feng topped the KOM standings to win the polka dot jersey for best climber while Turaev won the green jersey awarded to the top sprinter. American Vinyl LPGMA’s Lim won the white jersey, which goes to the best rider under 23 years old.
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