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Local squads ready for foreign challenge


LEGAZPI CITY — The majestic crown of Mayon Volcano hid on Thursday, but it did not dampen the spirit of the local squads as they kick off their campaign in the 8th Le Tour de Filipinas today in this wet and cloudy city.

A punishing 164.50-kilometer ride to Sorsogon would test the mettle of 7-Eleven Road Bike Philippines and the Philippine National Team as they compete against the best club teams in the world, bannered by Team Ukyo, Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team and Kinan Cycling Team of Japan, United Arab Emirates National Team, Uzbekistan National Team and LX Cycling Team of South Korea.
The race will be flagged off by city mayor Noel Rosal and chief organizer Donna May Lina at exactly 8 am at the Legazpi Boulevard and will feature a lung-busting six-kilometer, 300-meter climb of the Bulusan Volcano before coming to a full halt at the Sorsogon Capitol Building.
From Sorsogon, the race will roll off to Naga City on Sunday; Naga City to Daet on Monday; and Daet to Lucena City on Tuesday where the riders will negotiate the equally punishing “Tatlong Eme” in Atimonan, Quezon.
Bannered by superstar Mark Galedo, 7-Eleven looms as a solid force after it gamely challenged reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome and his star-studded Team Sky side in the 2017 Herald Sun Tour in Melbourne, Australia two weeks ago.
The prestigious five-day tournament is billed as the toughest — and the oldest — multi-stage bikathon in Oceania, making Galedo as a heavy favorite to end the reign of local riders in this battle sanctioned by the world-governing Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and has Ube Media, Inc. as main organizer, Petron and UPS as principal sponsors and Philippine Airlines as official carrier.
“No local rider has ever won the Le Tour twice. So, I guess it’s going to be my main motivation,” said the 2014 champion Galedo, who will be defending his home turf together with teammates Rustom Lim, Arjay Peralta and Edgar Nieto of Spain.
“I want to win the crown again. It is my mission and I want it badly,” added the 31-year old Galedo, who let go of the chance to race at Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia to knock the crown off the head of Frenchman Thomas Lebas of Kinan Cycling Team.
Philippine National Team manager Bert Oconer said Galedo has a handsome chance of making the top podium only if he will draw enough support from his crew in this tourney that stakes UCI ranking points needed for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and World Championship.
Oconer, who represented the country in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, said while familiarity with the trail is the local riders’ biggest advantage, they also have to pray for a tropical weather to zap the energy out of the foreign riders, most of them coming from cold countries like Japan, South Korea, China and Uzbekistan.
“Let’s hope and pray for a bright and sunny weather,” said Oconer, whose team checked into this enchanting city Wednesday amid gloomy weather and light rain showers.
“These riders are used to competing in cold weather. So if the weather condition on race day will be gloomy and windy, they might capitalize on them and gain momentum. Stage 1 is very crucial. It will surely dictate the tempo of the entire race.”
Oconer said his son, George, and as his teammates in John Renee Mier, Jerry Aquino, Boots Ryan Cayubit and Mervin Corpuz are all pumped up to dominate following an impressive training camp in the rolling hills of Jala-jala town in Rizal province.
Although another reliable rider in John Paul Morales would not be around to provide support, Oconer believes that reigning supreme is very possible.
“I believe we can make it,” he said. “We have prepared long and hard for this. Rest assured that we’ll do whatever we can to make the country proud.”

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