The brilliant vivid colors of the Philippines continue as we rose for yet another day of racing, the morning sun was already feeling hot well before the roll out time of 8am from outside the Subic Bay Lighthouse. The accumulated tiredness from the constant racing, without any recovery or leisure rides in-between, was taking its toll on my body. It was a 20km neutral rollout from the middle of Subic Bay on undulating roads out to the official start of the race. This brought back memories of my experience of racing here in 2010 at the Tour of Luzon.
I recalled my suicide attack that would only serve to put a nail in my coffin late into the 10-day stage race where we largely subsisted on the famous Jollibees for most of our meals. I was at the front of the peloton and ready to make my planned attack that would amount to nothing. The flags were waved at the top of the twisting descent, and I was off like a bullet carving those curves like a furious mad-man hell-bent on making an early escape in-order to make it up the vicious steep 2km ascent so I can at least be in a group going over the top. Initially, I was going well and extending a good gap on the peloton that contained the best pro riders in the Philippines as well as a number of top international cyclists. But it was not going to happen, the peloton had other ideas and I was soon reeled in right before the steepest section of the climb. I was a blown rider and struggled to make it to the top and blown out the back of the Tour of Luzon peloton. I did make a good comeback and managed to catch the peloton at the base of the next climb, but at this point my legs were well and truly toast and it was a long day combatting the numerous climbs that never-ended in the stifling humid heat coupled with the never-ending hornet like attacks from the Filipino pro riders, even when in small groups off the back. The memory of that past tiredness only added to my current exhaustion.
Fast-forward to today, I had arrived at the Giro de Pilipinas with tired legs from conquering the Himalayan Mountains and this time it was the amateur peloton which still consisted of many ex and current pros. The flag-off did not include the fast twisting descent like the Luzon Tour, but for safety reasons started the race on the short flat section after the descent. Immediately I could tell my legs were going to have a tough day when the first surge went on the lower sections. I could barely hang on and was floating off the back. I made a reconnection with the front group before the steepest part of the climb; I was grunting my way up in my 39-25 gearing which made life difficult. A lot of the riders had 39-28 or even compact cranks with 32-28 ratio, which makes it easier to generate power for longer when spinning higher cadences.
I was with one other rider cresting the top with a splendid view of the ocean and distant islands, and a nice twisting smooth road to ride fast on picking up rider after rider, life was again momentarily good. I was surprised to catch Brian Johnsen (Matador), who clearly was on form, dropped from the lead group. Johnsen and I rolled turns pretty hard with some limited help from the Filipinos, although I rallied some to continue the momentum. I had probably got too excited and when cornering at the bottom of a short descent through a village, I was gapped off and that was when my legs just went kaboom. It was a flat section, the place where I was motor-paced at 70km/h at the Tour of Luzon to get back on, but my legs were not generating any power so I quickly shut down shop and peeled a banana to recover for my long ride ahead over the numerous hills. I could see the front group just 30 seconds up the road, and also saw that Brian Johnsen and the group I had briefly led had regained contact with the front group. My head was already beating hard from the intense Filipino heat as I struggled to maintain even 200 watts, well below my tempo-training pace that I hold for hours on end. I was caught by another group coming up behind me and briefly rode with them, but was soon dropped when the road pointed up.
It is perhaps one of the toughest courses around with all the punchy climbs, the max altitude being only 431m but overall gain of 1,700m over 85km. For the Tour of Luzon, we endured 150km of the savage hills and heat, almost twice the distance of the Giro de Pilipinas. I don’t know how I survived it. I was out of fluids but was able to get ice-cold water from time to time from other team supporters to drink and pour over my head, which felt like heaven. Finally I reached the bottom of the final 6.3km ascent up Mount Samat where the 360ft Cross monument is located. I first came to a complete stop at the Pocari Sweat station and gulped down two full bottles of the fluid before pressing on.
The final climb pitched up to 18% in places, but I was feeling resurgence in the legs and was picking up riders one by one over the final 30 minutes. The switch backs were up to 20% and in-order to combat them, I basically sprinted up them and then recovered slightly when the road flattened before pitching up steeply yet again. I saw one Matador rider on the side of the road, with both his hands on the top tube of his bike and his head hanging in defeat. Also saw another couple of riders stopped on the side of the road, clearly suffering from the onset of cramps. Finally, my photographer wife popped into view and this gave me some more energy to muster for the final 500m to the finish, which was also the steepest sustained part of the climb. If the finish did not come when it did, I might have collapsed with the exertion I mustered just to keep the wheels turning.
I had averaged a respectable 253 watts for the final climb (or 273 watts for the last seven minutes), which was great considering I had struggled to get over 200watts earlier in the stage. After I had recovered enough with plenty of cold water and Vitamin water plus one donut (I could not eat the sandwich that was provided to all riders), I had enough energy to explore the massive Cross that was erected at the top of Samat Mountain. It was quite an impressive statue with carvings depicting the history of the Philippines. We rode up in the small lift to the viewing platform, which rewarded us with splendid 360-degree view of the mountains and sea below. The view was well worth the ride up from Subic Bay.
Stay tuned for Stage Four action.