MANILA, Philippines – Riders and coaches participating in this year's Le Tour de Filipinas believe that Stage 2 of the five-lap affair will be the difference-maker in the 822.2-km race that kicks off this weekend.
From defending champion El Joshua Carino to former title-holder Mark Galedo, riders agreed that the 194.9-km ride from Pagbilao, Quezon to Daet, Camarines Norte may well be considered the "killer lap" of the tour.
"Walang Baguio-to-Baguio (ngayon), kaya Stage 2 'yung pinakamahirap," said Carino, the national team member who is looking to become the first-ever back-to-back champion of the Category 2.2 event sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
"'Yung haba ng distansiya, hindi ka basta-basta babanat," said Galedo, who won in 2014. "Dapat kakalkulahin mo kung saan ka aatake."
The two champion riders gave their outlook for the upcoming race during the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Amelie Hotel-Manila, three days before the event kicks off in Tagaytay City on Friday for the 129.50-km Stage 1.
Marcelo Felipe, who recently topped the PRURide Philippines 2019 Stage Race in Subic, shared the same belief as the two other Filipino riders, although he also noted that the opening stage may play a crucial role in deciding this year's champion.
"Isa din 'yung (Stage 2) sa mahirap," conceded Felipe, the captain of 7-Eleven Air21 Cliqq Roadbike Philippines. "Pero kahit 'yung Stage 1 kasi may posibilidad na magka-iwanan din ng malaking oras diyan kahit hindi ganoon katarik 'yung ahon. Siyempre unang araw 'yan."
The riders were joined in the forum by national team rider Reinhardt Gorantes, Go For Gold’s Daniel Ven Carino and Ismael Gorospe, Eusebio Quinones of Celeste Cycle, 7-Eleven’s Dominic Perez, and Le Tour de Filipinas chairman Donna Lina.
The 75 cyclists seeing action in the race are not too familiar with this year's route, which whill have them traverse the paved roads south of Manila.
Quinones does have some advantage, being a native of Bicol.
"Taga-Bicol ako kaya tinuturo ko kung saan 'yung ruta na mahirap magmula Tagaytay paikot ng Bicol," he said. "Mas advantage 'yung riders namin (Celeste Cycle) dahil nasasabi ko 'yung buong terrain."
Not to be discounted too are foreign riders from China, Japan, Thailand, Kazakhstan, among others, seeing action in the race
Lina said a total of P1.8 million in prizes will be at stake in the five-day race.
"We have cash prizes for individual and team champions. And surprise din yung ibibigay na special prizes ng mga host provinces," said Lina.
Stage 3 of the race covers 183.7 kms from Daet to Legazpi City on June 16, followed by 176 kms from Legazpi City via Sorsogon and Gubat back to the Albay capital, and finally Stage 5 an out-and-back race in Legazpi City via Donsol in Sorsogon for a total of 145.8 kms.
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