BAGUIO – He’s an unheralded Frenchman who just lurked closely behind the leaders from the start, waiting for the right time to pounce.
Hardly getting attention as the spotlight fell on frontrunners Eric Sheppard and defending champion Mark Galedo, Thomas Lebas made his move in the final lap to capture the individual title of the 2015 Le Tour de Filipinas on Wednesday.
Running third since the beginning of the four-stage international race, the Bridgestone Anchor Cycling (BGT) rider capped off his consistent performance with a third-place finish in the steep, daunting final leg of the competition that proved enough to catapult him to the top.
Lebas clocked 13 hours, 40 minutes, and 49 seconds overall to dethrone Galedo, the top Filipino bet who wound up second, a minute and 57 seconds behind, while another French rider for BGT in Damien Monier took the final spot on the podium, finishing 2:19 after his compatriot.
It was the third international victory for the 28-year-old Lebas after he ruled the Tour International de Setif in Algeria last year and the Tour de Hokkaido in 2013.
Lebas’ Japan-based squad also managed to put up a fine finish in the team classification, barely missing out on top honors after ending up just a second behind winner Tabriz Petrochemical Team led by Stage Four individual top-notcher Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour.
“We’ll enjoy this,” the soft-spoken Lebas said. “Our team did a very good job.”
Pourseyedigolakhour underscored the Iranians’ superiority in steep roads by topping the day’s 101.7-kilometer route from Lingayen, Pangasinan to the Convention Center in the country’s Summer Capital in Benguet.
The Iranian rider completed the course, highlighted by a killer 10.1-km ascent beyond categorization by international standards on Kennon Road, in 2:54:01 for a whopping 26-place jump from 30th on Tuesday to fourth overall, 2:34 behind Lebas.
Oleg Zemakiov completed the individual Top 5 list with a time of 13:43:29, allowing the Kazakhstani cyclist to also be adjudged as the Best Young Rider.
Galedo appeared in prime position to achieve his bid to become the first back-to-back champion of the race presented by Air21 and co-presented by Smart and MVP Sports Foundation after he overtook Sheppard, who lost the lead after he fell from his bike going into the last three kilometers.
Thinking he was out of the woods, Galedo went in cruise control as part of the peloton not knowing Lebas, who came in the stage just a single second behind the Pinoy, joined the Iranian leaders in forming the final breakaway. Lebas took the lead for good in the View Deck along Kennon.
“Nagkaroon lang siya ng pagkakataon na kasama siya dun sa mga Iranian kanina, so naging chance sa kanya yun,” Galedo said. “Nung nakita ko na lumagpas na siya sa akin, nakita ko na hindi ko na aabutin, wala na talaga.”
“Pero ginawa naman namin lahat.”
“The other (leaders) dropped from the group and I saw I was the only one left for the general (classification), so I went strong to the finish,” the sneaky Lebas said.
Jun Rey Navarra finished as the next best local rider at 12th spot (4:08 behind Lebas), while Galedo’s 7-Eleven teammate, Marcelo Felipe, ended up in 18th spot (4:39 behind).
Galedo and Felipe’s team dropped from first to fourth in the team classification.