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OUT OF NOWHERE
LUCENA CITY — Australian Jai Crawford attacked the dreaded “Tatlong Eme” zigzag in Atimonan, Quezon almost without care and won the 8th Le Tour de Filipinas without clinching a lap on Tuesday.
Crawford, of Kinan Cycling Team, climbed the dreaded route in dire need of a miracle and got it down the treacherous descent to knock erstwhile leader Daniel Whitehouse of Terengganu Cycling Team out of the championship.
Crawford, 33, finished Stage 4 at fifth place behind Sanghong Park of LX Cycling Team, Matt Boys of Kuwait Cartucho.Es, Mario Vogt of Attaque Team Gusto and Damien Monier of Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team with a time of five hours and 16 seconds.
He garnered an accumulated time of 17 hours, 33 minutes and seven seconds in the general classification to bag the crown of this prestigious Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)-sanctioned race presented by Air21 and organized by Ube Media with Petron and UPS as principal sponsors.
Whitehouse was a mere 28 seconds behind Crawford with 17:33:35 and could only rue his misfortune after leading from the start.
“I was fifth in the stage. But the stage is not important. I was focused on my time and how I can get that yellow jersey,” said Crawford, who came up with a bridesmaid finish in the Tour de Langkawi last year.
“I attacked after the first 10 kilometers. I was in the breakaway (group). They reacted because me and Eddie (Edgar Nohales Nieto) of 7-Eleven were the GC (general classification) riders.”
Nohales Nieto, the charismatic Spaniard who bannered local squad 7-Eleven Roadbike Philippines, was poised to give Crawford a serious challenge as part of the six-man lead group from the first 10 kilometers all the way to the boundary of Pagbilao town and this city.
Unfortunately, hunger and exhaustion sapped the energy out of him in the final six kilometers, paving the way for Crawford, Park, Vogt, Boys and Monier to figure in a furious sprint.
Whitehouse, the yellow jersey holder for the past three stages, was also nowhere in sight as he cleared Stage 4 at 14th place, followed shortly by local hero Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven, who crossed the finish line in front of the new city hall at 16th spot.
WHITEHOUSE KEEPS YELLOW JERSEY
DAET, Camarines Norte — Spanish rider Fernando Grijalba’s 10-day training in the Philippines paid a handsome reward for him as he ruled Stage three of the eighth Le Tour de Filipinas which ended Monday in front of the provincial capitol of this beautiful coastal province.
Grijalba, the 26-year-old continental rider from the tiny Spanish municipality of Laguna de Duero, patiently lurked in the chase group before launching his torrid attack in the final stretch of the punishing 177.35-kilometer race from Naga City to formally seal his first career stage victory.
He flexed his biceps in victory as he checked into the finish line in four hours, 14 minutes and three seconds, together with a bunch of riders that included hometown bets Arjay Peralta and Rustom Lim of 7-Eleven Roadbike Philippines, and reigning titlist Thomas Lebas of Kinan Cycling Team.
Benjamin Hill of Attaque Team Gusto placed second while Ryu Suzuki of Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team came in third following the heart-stopping battle of this Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)-sanctioned race presented by Air21 and organized by Ube Media with Petron and UPS as principal sponsors.
Stage 1 winner Daniel Whitehouse of Terengganu Cycling Team checked in after a minute and 27 seconds to finish at the 37th spot. He, however, would still don the symbolic yellow jersey as he is still 23 seconds ahead of Grijalba with an accumulated time of 12:30:54 after three stages of action.
Whitehouse said the penultimate stage — the treacherous 207.35-kilometer journey to Lucena City that would snake through the dreaded “Tatlong Eme” in Atimonan, Quezon — would ultimately decide the outcome of the race.
“The attacks came as expected, but we were still able to protect the yellow jersey,” said the youthful Manchester native, adding that Grijalba, Hill, Suzuki, Salvador Guardiola of Team Ukyo, Lebas and Edgar Nieto Nohales can steal the title away pending their performance in the highly-crucial final stage of what looms as one of the most exciting and unpredictable local races ever.
“It’s going to be a wide-open race tomorrow. I will do everything to win it (championship). I’ll fight for it until I die — until my last fall off my bike.”
After emerging fourth in the general classification after two stages, Grijalba, who is racing for Kuwait Cartucho.Es, made heads turn as he sped off in the final 30-kilometer mark past the famous “Bitukang Manok” in Sipocot town to join the lead group and dictate the tempo until the final 15 kilometers.
Whitehouse was still part of the lead group, but faded completely as Grijalba and the rest of the pack dominated the final 10 kilometers of the race that featured mostly flat and a couple of hilly terrains.
And it didn’t surprise Grijalba anymore as he trained here 10 days prior the start of the race last week.
“I have been training here for 10 days and it helped me a lot as I have familiarized myself with what lies ahead,” he said while extending his heartfelt gratitude to fellow Spaniard Nieto Nohales, who served as his training buddy while serving as foreign guest player of local squad 7-Eleven.
NAGA CITY — Australian Sean Whitfield survived a punishing terrain, gloomy weather, greasy road and a daring challenger before zooming to rule Stage 2 of the 8th Le Tour de Filipinas in this sun-baked city.
Racing for Oliver’s Real Food Racing, the 21-year old sprinter from Canberra was in his best in the final 10-kilometer mark to edge South Korean Sanghong Park of LX Cycling Team in a heart-stopping dash to the finish line for his first career stage victory.
He cleared the wild and treacherous 177.35-kilometer ride from Sorsogon City in four hours, 19 minutes and 21 seconds while Sanghong checked in with the same clocking, as well as Fernando Grijalba of Kuwait Caruncho.Es and several other riders that included yellow jersey-holder Daniel Whitehouse of Terengganu Cycling Team and heavyweight Benjamin Hill of Attaque Team Gusto.
With that, Whitehouse still retained the overall lead with accumulated time of 8:15:24 while Hill is breathing down his neck with 8:17:21 for a little less than two-minute disadvantage after the two-day battle in this Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)-sanctioned race presented by Air21 and organized by Ube Media with Petron and UPS as principal sponsors.
Reigning champion Thomas Lebas of Kinan Cycling Team, meanwhile, joins Eiichi Hirai, Salvador Guardiola and Nathan Earle of Team Ukyo and Spanish Edgar Nieto Nohales of 7-Eleven Roadbike Philippines just two minutes and four seconds behind Whitehouse with an accumulated time of 8:17:28.
Whitehouse said that while he’s happy to don the yellow jersey anew in today’s 177.35 ride from Naga City to Daet City, he still has to be very careful, knowing that Whitfield, Lebas and the home riders bannered by Rustom Lim and Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven and George Oconer of the Philippine National Team are very good in competing in flat terrain.
“Like what I’ve said, I’m taking it one day at a time,” said the 22-year old sprint specialist from Manchester, who checked into the finish line in front of Phoenician Building looking like an earthquake survivor with a face covered in dirt and a large plaster on his nose.
“Stage 2 was a very tough ride. When we hit the coast and the road started to go up and down with strong rain and strong wind, everybody had a tough time. Somebody even crashed going down the hill. I hope he’s now okay.”
True enough, the ride from Sorsogon to Naga City via the coastal towns of Tiwi and Sagnay was not for the faint of heart.
In fact, it marked the first time in several decades that a Philippine cycling race passed through the seaside roads from Tiwi to Sagnay, Camarines Norte's first municipality from Sorsogon.
“We raced already here, but that was a long time ago,” said Le Tour de Filipinas Race Manager Paquito Rivas, the 1997 Tour champion and the sole owner of the title Eagle of the Mountain. “But it was different then, the roads were not paved, but they still posed the same challenge.”
With rain battering nearby towns, Jai Crawford of Kinan Cycling Team made a brazen bid for a solo breakaway past the 100-kilometer mark to enter the mountain stage with an overwhelming 5:32 lead from the chase group featuring Guardiola and Mario Vogt of Attaque Team Gusto.
But his daring move paid a sorry reward as the hilly terrain, the punishing weather and the slippery road zapped the energy out of him, leaving him battered and badly beat before he could formally approach the final stretch of the mountain with an elevation of 142 meters and a 360-degree view of the enchanting Lagonoy gulf below.
The main peloton caught him up in the final 30-kilometer mark, paving the way for Whitfield to assert his dominance in the last 10 kilometers or just after the bunch zoomed past the welcome arc of Pili town.
Although he crossed the finish line in a photo finish with Park, there was no doubt that he is the victor as he raised his arms in celebration.
“I think I was fourth or fifth across the KoM (King of the Mountain) stage,” said Whitfield shortly after cooling himself from the water cannon. “There was a lot of rain. I really can’t remember. It was like a dream.”
“I said to my teammates ‘five minutes, only one rider in front. I think we can do it, although it’s still very far from the finish (line).”
He said he didn’t attack in the mountain stage, knowing how treacherous it was downhill.
“The road was not so good. There’s a lot of oil and it’s raining hard so it’s just better to be safe. I don’t want my guys to get hurt,” he said. “As you can see, I’m covered with dirt from the ocean.”
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