The highlight of stage four, for me, was the amazing dip in cool river water under a waterfall in the jungle. After the successful completion of stage 4, I had noticed a sign for a waterfall just 300m from the hill-top finish. I had invited other riders to join me on my quest to find the waterfall with the objective to cool down my over-heated body. Everyone was just too tired and not game enough to venture into the Jungle. After rehydrating, I went to the trail-head and asked for directions. I was told it was not far into the jungle, so I proceeded with my road bike and cycling shoes with cleats, scrambling on the muddy yellow jungle trail. I was getting mud all over my shoes and on the wheels of my bike. It was just a 15min cyclocross section, alternating between walking and riding to reach the waterfall. It was worth it. I stripped down to just my bib shorts and plunged straight into the deliciously cool river water and swam over to the waterfall. The 10-minute soak in the pool left me feeling like Superman; I felt like I could ride the whole race route again! It was a piece of cake to ride back into Subic Bay to get cleaned up.
The sensations in the legs had returned for stage four at the inaugural Giro de Pilipinas held at Subic Bay; I knew that I was going to have a better day even judging from the 20km neutral roll-out to the same flag-off point as Stage three. I was a bit more spritely and the legs seemed to be “bouncing” more and recovering. It was already hot and humid by 8am, but the roll over roads fringed by heavy jungle afforded welcome shelter from the rays of the sun.
This time the respective age-group grades came to a complete stop after the fast descent. I was in the 36-45 age group category, which was by far the largest and most competitive of the grades with a number of ex-pros. Even a couple of pros dropped down from the open category after the completion of the 39.2km ITT to provide more stern competition and there was even a rumor going around that it was perhaps done to stop an outsider from winning the overall GC, nonetheless the racing was competitive and the final day saw more aggressive riding all round with only a max altitude of 230m, but had more than 1400m of climbing. This time the parcours saw riders tackle the steep first climb twice with one other major climb and a short but very steep climb to rejoin the loop.
Because legs seemed to have come back, I took a punt when the flag was waived and was the first one to attack. My gap did not last long and I was caught rather quickly. More attacks kept flying up the road as we raced towards the steepest section of the climb, and I was responding to the moves quite comfortably and staying near the front of the peloton. It had already broken up considerably before the climb proper started and once we hit the 15-18% slopes, I also fell back and climbed at my own pace; however, when it ‘flattened’ to about 10% I got into a steady rhythm and started to overtake riders that obviously went too fast in the beginning. Going over the top, I was with a couple of riders and picked up more on the nice roller-coaster ride to the village. We caught the lead bunch right at the bottom, coming through the dusty village and starting the second, but longer, climb that suited me a bit better. I rolled with the lead group and was hanging on, just. At the very top, I was still in contact with the lead group, but a rider came up to me and handed a quarter bottle of coca-cola which I gladly grabbed and took a few seconds to gulp it down. In hindsight, this could have been some sort of tactic to disconnect me, who knows. If it was, it was successful. I was already in the red for a while and the action of taking the coca-cola served to drop me back about 20m, I did not have the energy to zip back on before the fast downhill started.
I did take the time to savior the view of the ocean and the jungle as I descended rather circumspectly. Then, like stage three, I just went ‘ka-boom’; I struggled up the super steep grade and was rapidly dwindling on my fluid supplies but I did have one gel in my pocket, which proved to be the ace up my sleeve to help rejuvenate my ride. I was also lucky to get handed bottles of cold water at critical time points and also got a couple of small bananas to munch down while starting lap two. I was caught by the second group but failed to stay with them, however the next group from another category caught up with me. It was a bunch of 46 plus older dudes and they dropped me too. However, my resurgence was starting and the legs were coming back. I caught up with several of the riders cresting the climb and on the roller-coaster proceeded to reel in more riders. The pace-setting was feeling good, but then no-one was pulling through so I thought it would be best to cruise the roller-coaster. Craig Green (Matador) and Ernie (Mossimo) were the only ones on the front trying to get a pace-line going, flicking their elbows and asking riders to rotate through the pace-line. They were not getting any help. Craig Green at that time was the leader of the category and no one was going to pull. I started to help by rotating through and once we passed through the dusty village for the second time, I went to the front again and did a long steady 300-watt pull, with two Filipino riders glued to my wheel. I did not realize that I had caused some damage and some riders had been gapped and thrown into the red. One of them was Craig Green and also Ernie, who had been following behind Green. I finished the long pull at the top of the climb and free-wheeled down the descent, following the wheels of Ernie and Green.
What happened next was astounding. Five Filipinos jumped hard out of the saddles, including the eventual stage winner from Excellent Noodles, and really hammered the short steep climb back to the loop start point. This immediately threw Craig Green deep into the hurt-box; I could see that he was suffering although I was 300m behind him. It was a smart move by the Filipinos, like an all out coup. There was still one more major climb hurdle to overcome and I was really starting to feel good after I emerged from the last steep climb. I kept humming along, even though the five Filipinos had also dropped me. On the climb, I managed a personal best time and a good late race wattage readout of 320w. It felt great to be going strong up the climb and passing a number of riders, including Matador’s Craig Green and also another blown Matador.
It was a stiff head wind and riding alone made it quite challenging to keep the speed up. I did not catch any more riders but finished on a strong note to be 11th overall in my category for the Giro de Pilipinas.
If you are looking for a unique cycling experience in Asia, consider a cycling holiday in the Philippines combining with the Giro de Pilipinas or other stage races that are held throughout the year. Plus, if you have an interest in American history, you’ll also find Subic Bay a fascinating place to be. Depending on where you are coming from, it is easiest to fly into Clark Airport as the transfer to Subic Bay is super smooth and quick. The organizers will be there to pick you up and take you to the race hotel. Plus make sure you visit Xtremely Xpresso, they make extremely large pizzas. Not sure if they are the largest in the world, but at 22 inches they would be a world contender; the pizzas are also extremely tasty! Perfect recovery food for cyclists tackling the Giro de Pilipinas.
At the prize giving, a new and exciting announcement was made. A partnership between the Baterna brothers and RONDAS Philippines has been made. From 2016 onwards, a series of races for women, juniors and all amateur riders will be held on the same course and same day as the professional RONDAS course. It is the first time in history that the RONDAS is being opened to amateur riders, and this is exciting news for the development of Filipino cycling. Stay tuned for more details on this.