Arrival of crack Iran team turns Le Tour into race for second, says Dolosa
It's the calm before the storm as Irish Valenzuela, right, and American Vinyl teammates Ronald Lomotos, Edmundo Nicolas, Jr., and Cris Joven relax on the beach at Barangay Burayoc in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte ahead of the Le Tour de Filipinas race.  

BANGUI, Ilocos Norte — With the arrival of Iranian continental powerhouse Tabriz Petrochem, two-time Marlboro Tour champion Renato Dolosa has declared Le Tour de Filipinas has been reduced into a battle for second place.

Dolosa, a former national team coach and mentor of last year’s team champion American Vinyl, had expected a close fight in the fourth edition of Le Tour with his lead rider Irish Valenzuela among the top local bets in the four-stage Union Cycliste Internationale Asian Tour event firing off on Saturday.

But the arrival of the Iranian squad, which wasn’t confirmed for the event until a few days before the Saturday start, has dashed the hopes of the 14 other teams, according to Dolosa who had seen Iranians  dominate the 2011 edition of Le Tour de Filipinas from start to finish.

“Crossed out na sa listahan yung first place,” said Dolosa, considered one of the best tactical Filipino riders with Tour titles in 1992 and 1995 and now a champion coach in various tours.

Dolosa and his wards are now set to meet and rethink their plans to make the most out of the race firing off on Saturday with Stage One, a 183-kilometer race from this bustling coastal town to Aparri.

“Noong paalis kami (from Manila), ang sabi namin, ‘May tsansa tayo.’… Nung dumating ’yun, inekisan ko na yung No. 1,” Dolosa said.

Final team compositions were to be revealed after the team managers' meeting on Friday afternoon, although an initial list drafted by the Tabriz Petrochemical squad, which arrived only on Thursday, included the multi-titled Ghader Mizbhani.

The team was said to have sent only five riders and not one reserve, although Dolosa said the team is so strong even three of its riders would be more than enough to win the title.

“Kahit tatlo nga lang, pwede na ’yun,” said Dolosa.

National team rider Lloyd Lucien Reynante, son of former Tour champion Maui, knows what they are up against.

“Malakas yung team na yun, pero magdedepende rin naman ang result sa kung paano kakarera yung mga Pilipino,” said Reynante, Tour Pilipinas 2004 runner-up, who stressed that Filipinos should focus on what riders can realistically achieve in a race.

UCI points and preparation for future events such as the SEA Games, he noted, can be considered the main focus instead of the individual and team titles.

“Kung magkakaintindihan and mga Pilipino, kung iintindihin lang kung ano ang dapat gawin para sa ikabubuti ng lahat, maganda ang magiging resulta ng karera,” said Reynante, wearing the colors of Philippine Team Standard Insurance.


Dolosa’s observation, however, is in stark contrast to several local bets whose hopes have been boosted by the victory last year by Jonipher 'Baler' Ravina.

Ravina, now 31, maintains that familiarity with the course and the extreme heat will be a major advantage and that he believes his teammates at UCI continental team 7-Eleven-Roadbike, particularly Mark Galedo and Ronnel Hualda could again help tow him in the crucial stages of the race.

Only the second Filipino to win a UCI-sanctioned race, Ravina believes the opening stage will be very close but that there is a good chance to build a few minutes on his rivals in Stage Two, a 196-km race from Aparri to Cauayan in Isabela.

“Maganda kasi ang preparation namin, kaya kung anuman yung mga prediction, balewalain dapat,” said Ravina, who saw action in Thailand recently.

Stage Three of the Tour presented by Air21 in partnership with San Miguel Corp. and Smart is a 104-km cruise to Bayombong in Nueva Vizcaya and the final stage, a 133.5-km race to Baguio City.

Other teams seeing action are Atilla Cycling Team of Mongolia, Polygon Sweet Nice are Continental Teams Terengganu of Malaysia, Polygon Sweet nice of Ireland, OCBC Continental of Singapore, CCN of Taiwan, Synergy Cycling Project of Azerbaijan and LBC-MVPSF Cyling Pilipinas.

Club teams vying for honors are Atilla Cycling Team of Mongolia, Korail of Korea, Perth Cycling Club of Australia, and Philippine Navy Standard Insurance.

Sponsors of the race are 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.

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