MARK Galedo will be defending his Le Tour de Filipinas title against top local and foreign riders, including two other former champions, when the only Philippine cycling race sanctioned by the sport’s world governing body rolls on from February 1 to 4.
Galedo returns this year with an eye on a second consecutive Le Tour crown, although it won’t be easy as the Team 7-Eleven Roadbike Philippines mainstay will be challenged by top riders from Iran who have ruled the same event, now on its sixth edition and under the auspices of the Union Cycliste Internationale.
Rahim Emami, formerly of the Azad University Cycling Team but now racing for Pishgaman Yzad Pro Cycling Team, vies for honors in the 2015 Le Tour after ruling the 2011 event, while 2013 champion Ghader Mizbani of Tabriz Petrochemical Team.
UCI commissaire Jose Adolfo Cruz expects a tough race from the start.
“Punishment na kaagad ang Stage One. It’s a prelude of what to expect. The course is very forgiving but gradual road until the ultimate stage of Baguio. This route will be a different challenge. Mukhang mabilis ang magiging karera natin ngayon,” said Cruz.
Stage One is set on February 1, a 126-kilometer Balanga Circuit Race in the capital of Bataan. Stage Two on February 2 takes the riders from Balanga to Iba, Zambales, a 153.75-kilometer route. Stage 3 will be another flat course, a 149.34-km ride from Iba to Lingayen, Pangasinan on February 3.
The final stage will be a climb from Lingayen to Baguio City via Kennon Road on February 4.
“The Baguio stage levels everything. There may be those who have gotten headway but there are a lot of things that can happen in the last stage,” Cruz said.
Five teams will debut in this year’s Le Tour in Team Novo Nordisk of the United States, Taiwan’s RTS Santic Racing Team and Attaque Team Gusto, Thailand’s Singha Infinite Cyclign Team, and the Kazakhstan National Team.
Returning this year are two local teams in Team 7-Eleven Roadbike Philippines and the Philippine national team, and foreign squads Navistas Satalyst Racing Team of Australia, Pishgaman Yazd Pro Cycling Team of Iran, CCN Cycling Team of Brunei, Pegasus Continental Cycling Team of Indonesia, Uzbekistan national team, TPT Cycling Team of Iran, Terengganu Cycling Team of Malaysia, and the Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team of Japan.
Le Tour will also celebrate 60 years of multi-stage cycling in the Philippines this year after the Manila-to-Vigan cycling race was held in 1955.
“60 years na tayong nagmamahal sa bisikleta and there are emotions attached to it also,” said Philcycling chairman and Air21 owner Bert Lina. “We are so happy that the UCI gave us this four-day international cycling event.”