MANILA, Philippines -- Korea's Lee Ki Suk of continental team CCN won an all-foreign rider sprint in Stage One of the 2013 Le Tour de Filipinas on Saturday.
Lee had to pour it all to nose out an Iranian juggernaut that made its presence felt early in the grueling first stage of the Le Tour.
The weather appeared to have favored the foreigners as they raced in the early goings under overcast skies, then under heavy unseasonal rains and finished in cool conditions in the country's northernmost town where the Maharlika Highway practically ends.
The 24-year-old Lee clocked four hours, 35 minutes and 42 seconds over the 183-km stage that started in picturesque Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte--the same time submitted by second-placer Douglas Repacholi, the Australian from the Perth Cycling Team.
Crossing the finish after them, however, were four Iranians riding for Tabriz Petrochemical Team (TBT), a former No. 1 team on the Asia Tour that is trying to regain its lofty reputation in the continent.
No Filipino, including 2012 champion Jonipher "Baler" Ravina, figured in the stage.
The top 10 was an all-foreign cycling show--Australia's Caleb Jones (CCN, 37 seconds behind) and Luke Parker (Perth, 3:17 behind) were seventh and eighth, respectively, Spain's Edgar Nohales Nieto (Polygon Sweet Nice, 3:18 behind) was ninth and Denmark's John Ebsen (Synergy Baku Cycling Project, 3:20 behind) was 10th.
Lloyd Lucien Reynante (Standard Insurance-Marines-National Team) was the best-placed Filipino at 14th, but he was 6:47 behind the stage winner.
Ravina (7-Eleven-RoadBike) could only finish more than seven minutes behind at 22nd along with teammate Mark John Galedo. They trailed Ronnel Hualda (Standard Insurance-Marines-National Team) and Joel Calderon (Standard Insurance-Navy), who both crossed seven minutes after the Korean.
Lee, however, felt his days wearing the yellow jersey would be short in fourth edition of the country's only international race sanctioned by the International Cycling Union.
"I'm a good racer and good on flat roads--I will do good tomorrow and keep the yellow jersey," said the 26-year-old veteran Seoul-born rider, a stage winner in last week's Tour of Thailand. "But I'm not sure if I could hold onto the lead into the mountains."
Sunday's Stage Two will also be on relatively flat roads to Cauayan City in Isabela covering a longer 196 kms, Stage Three will be short at 104 kms to Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya, while Stage Three will be the Le Tour's signature roller-coaster race over the Cordilleras via Kayapa to Baguio City.
Le Tour de Filipinas is presented by Air21 in partnership with San Miguel Corp. and Smart.
It is also backed by Standard Insurance, Jinbei, Victory Liner, San Mig Coffee, Magnolia Purewater, Red Media, Foton, Maynilad, Kia, Sign Media, Integrated Waste Management Inc., Eurotel, American Vinyl, LBC and 7-Eleven.