BALANGA, Bataan – Eric Sheppard again came up with a fine start in Le Tour de Filipinas, taking top honors after winning a four-man sprint in Stage One on Sunday.
The Australian rider for Attaque Team Gusto matched his opening-day win in last year’s tour when he finished first in the Clark-Olongapo stage, taking the yellow jersey early as he bids to improve on the second-place finish in 2014.
The 23-year-old Sheppard got away in the final 200 meters from the four-man lead group that included titleholder Mark Galedo, finishing two-bike lengths ahead of the top Filipino bet for the win.
“I felt pretty good last year, but I felt better this year, a bit more comfortable in the bunch,” Sheppard said. “I expended a fair bit of energy today, so tomorrow’s going to be hard, of course.”
The race, presented by Air21 and co-presented by the MVP Sports Foundation and Smart, continues on Monday with Stage Two to Iba, Zambales in a another challenging course, this time with two King of the Mountain climbs.
Thomas Lebas of Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team took the final spot on the podium, all three clocking three hours, 16 minutes, and 13 seconds in the 126-kilometer stage that began at the Provincial Capitol and ended at Roman Highway.
Kazakhstan National team’s Oleg Kemakiaov wound up fourth and last in the four-man sprint.
Jerry Aquino Jr., a last-minute replacement for Galedo on the national team after the defending champion had to rejoin 7-Eleven Road Bike Philippines on the eve of the race — barely missed a spot in the Top 10 by finishing 11th overall. National teammate Ronald Lomotos finished as the third best Filipino at 16th overall, both clocking 3:19:29.
Muhamad Othman of Terengganu Cycling Team, Jun Navarra of the Philippine team, and Kazakhstan national team counterpart Nurbulat Kulimbetov were still part of a seven-man lead pack up to the 100-kilometer mark.
That was until four riders led by Sheppard and Galedo broke away in the last five kilometers.
“It was an interesting stage, similar to last year, shorter but done in reverse,” Sheppard said of opening stage, comparing it to Clark-Olongapo.
Looking to become the first back-to-back winner of the UCI Asia Tour event, Galedo launched a solo attack early at Subic Bay-Olongapo and built a one-minute lead. But he was quickly pulled back by the peloton on the hilly roads of Morong gate heading back to Bataan.
“Parang biro lang yung paglabas ko kanina,” the 29-year-old Galedo said with a smile. “Hindi nila ako sinundan so tinuloy ko.”
The race is also supported by Victory Liner, San Mig Zero, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals Phils. and Canon, with Isuzu, MAN Truck and Bus, Viking Rent-A-Car and NLEX as road partners.