Guest SaddleDrunk Rider/Writer Daniel Carruthers report back to us the first day of the Giro de Pilipinas 2015 from Subic Bay,Philippines.Photos Credit to Jennifer Carruthers.
As part of the re-invention of the Subic Bay Area, this new event Giro de Pilipinas has been staged at a perfect time to raise the awareness of cyclists in this beautiful part of Luzon Island and help stake the claim Subic Bay is becoming the cycling capital of the Philippines.
It is a short flight from Hong Kong to Clark airport and the transfer is only one hour on virtually traffic free smooth roads, a far better option than flying into Metro Manila. The location of this new event could not be more perfect for riders from around Asia wishing to experience the style of Filipino racing and hospitality; there is a vibrant racing scene here and the level just keeps improving with each year I’ve been coming to race. I’ve been racing in the Philippines for six years now, beginning with the Tour of Luzon in 2010, followed by the Tour of Larrazabal on Ormoc Island in 2011. Subsequently I’ve been invited to provide media coverage for the Tour of Matabungkay for the last five years. Unfortunately, culminating with the tragic circumstances involving the Kenyan Riders, the Matabungkay Tour has been cancelled and removed from the race calendar. However, the Giro de Pilipinas replaces this Tour and is organized by the same Baterna brothers. This event has kicked off with a great start with more than 250 riders across all the categories participating. There is more for cyclists here in Subic Bay with plenty of good restaurant options and hotels to stay in. It is a proven training ground for many of the Filipino tri-athletes as there is ample flat road riding as well as many climbs to choose from. The new Giro de Pilipinas has arrived with impeccable timing and will help serve to spearhead the growth of cycling in Subic Bay.
Coming off the back of an intense 7-days of mountain bike racing in the Himalayas, where I was riding 6-7 hours each day in the saddle, one would expect me to show up with some tired legs. It proved to be true with a lackluster performance in the 39.2km ITT for stage one. I had a few mechanicals to sort out before the start of the ITT, which I was one of the first to go at 6.02am! I rolled up to the starting ramp with a couple of minutes to spare without any warm-up and my previous ride was stage seven on the MTB in the Himalayas! The countdown was on and I was off on my time trial. Immediately, due to lack of marshals at that time, I took two wrong turns before I found myself back on track. Because the first section is largely flat with a few rollers, I was able to get into a nice rhythm and was averaging about 340 watts according to my JouleGPS. But as soon as the road went up-wards, I started to struggle and the legs did not have the same snap that I am used to. Overall it was quite a lumpy time trial course with three 150m climbs and an interesting forest loop on narrow roads. During the forest loop, a large monkey popped out of the forest and checked me out as I flew by on the descent.
Eventually, I was caught by my minute-man who proceeded to draft me. It seems whenever I race in time-trials in the Philippines, I always see blatant drafting; riders don’t seem to understand that it is an individual time trial: you versus the clock and nothing else. So, in order to get rid of the rider, I stalled my pedaling but the Filipino would not come past me. So I turned and pulled him past me and gave him a pinch too! That jolted him and he was on his way. A few minutes later I was caught by two more riders and they were working together! They caught the guy I pinched and the three of them started lapping it out and opening the gap on me. So much for an individual time trial. I also saw riders coming the opposite direction on the way back, also drafting. In the last five minutes I had a late rally and was able to increase my power to finish on a strong note. I headed straight to the hotel and took a well deserved nap to recover in time for the afternoon’s 105km stage.
Stage two – 105km
Feeling groggy with sleep, I had a quick bite of a vegetarian sandwich and a pineapple shake literally just 30minutes before the start of the stage. The neutral portion of the stage was 15km, rolling out from the Subic Naval base area out onto the traffic infested roads of Subic. I was in the large wave of 35-45 age group and we rolled along at an easy 25km/h, allowing time for my food to digest before the racing began.
At the official starting point of the stage, the traffic needed to be cleared before the racing could start. The hot tropical sun was beating down on me and I was perspiring like mad. I refueled on the ice-cold vitamin water that was provided by sponsors and the stage began. We faced a short climb of about 1.5kms, which was done steady and I was near the front. On the descent, three riders shot clear and had a decent gap on the bunch. Just before the next township, another three riders sprinted hard across and the breakaway became six riders. I sensed the danger, but I was not handily placed to make the jump across myself, besides due to the large 100 plus rider peloton, I thought more riders would start jumping across. But this did not happen and much to my chagrin, the whole bunch slowed down to a 30km/h pace – much like a Sunday afternoon easy bunch ride. This ensured the break group was well and truly gone. I tried several moves to rally the group but I was shut down each time, mostly by the Sante Monte guys in green, with jersey’s that proclaim “I’m on Grass”. I was constantly marked by the “I’m on Grass” guys and I am mystified at their style of riding – they had no one in the breakaway (or I could be mistaken) and they have two sprinters, so they should be amping for a sprint finish. I tried at least six random attacks and some of them were double-attacks as I found that if I coasted, the guys in green would coast also. The double-attack failed to throw them off. I waited for opportunities to go with others, but each time was reeled back in.
The roads here at the Giro de Pilipinas are great, not perfect, but good enough for fast racing and also offer plenty of interesting sights along the way. We passed by brilliant green yellow rice fields harvested by cart-drawn water buffalos against a backdrop of green-covered mountains. It is brilliantly colorful here in the Philippines with wispy white clouds and blue skies, the colorful Jeepnies, and moto-taxis, a smorgasbord of signs proclaiming different things, like “home of the most beautiful women” or “Playboy ice-cream” were two that stuck with me. The traffic control is markedly better compared with previous years I have raced here in the Philippines. The marshals and the police did a great job of keeping the notoriously bad traffic under control.
I saw an opportunity. It was about 20km to go and the bunch was strung out and breaking up. I was moving towards the front and checked behind me and saw the gaps and also saw the riders in front of me starting to soft-pedal. I attacked hard and in the process, my helmet was kicked sharply backwards by a tree branch that was hanging awfully low by the road-side. Luckily it just skimmed me and I continued on with my attack. I caught the lone rider just up the road and we traded pulls together. Our gap to the peloton grew and we quickly put them out of sight as the bunch hesitated. I soon found that the Filipino rider I was with was not pulling strong enough so I did longer pulls on the front to ensure he would get recovery and pull enough so I could recover for a few seconds. He would pull through and immediately flicked his elbow and soft-pedalled. Regardless, we seemed to be doing enough to keep the gap constant. As the kilometers ticked by, I began to feel we were in for a chance to get to the finish before the peloton and was motivated to keep my pulls hard and steady.
With six kilometers to go, we were still in front but my companion seemed to be getting weaker. He overshot a corner and this gave me a gap of about 30m to the rider. I continued to pull hard like I was doing but he managed to claw back to my wheel and this told me he had been conserving all along. With four kilometers to go, he did a big surge and I had to dig deep to get back to him. I told him not to do that again, little realizing that the peloton was in sight behind us and was rapidly closing on us. Three kilometers to go we were swept up into the fold. It was going to be a large bunch sprint. Singapore based Brian Jensen (Matador) launched a big attack right on the final short climb and strung the pack out over the climb. I surprised myself with enough power to launch back near the front and just focused on staying near the front for the sprint finale.
It was all game on with riders in the large peloton all-jostling for position but no one really taking charge. This can spell doom for a bunch of this size as with less than 1km from the finish, we were all spread across the road and waiting for the first one to sprint. It was a little hair-raising for me but my sprinters instincts took over and I was moving with the flow and making sure I was not swamped from behind. Right when the sprint was opening up, a rider two over from my left started to go but looked behind and somehow crossed wheels. He went down heavily and took out the rider next to him. The domino effect nearly took me down also, but I was able to “ski” out of the danger. I was coasting and taking an evasive line out, barely missing the carnage. A whole cluster of riders hit the deck just 300m from the finish, leaving just a few of us to contest the finish.
I had great legs and I was ready to open my sprint at least 100m before the crash happened, but was boxed in and had to wait patiently for an opening. After emerging from the danger unscathed, I launched my sprint from 250m out but guys who had more momentum on the far right side already had the gap. The Excellent Noodles winner from two years ago at the Tour of Matabungkay took the bunch kick while I came in forth. I was relieved that I was not taken out considering I have a lot more racing coming up back in China.
It was a 15kms ride back to the Subic Bay Naval base area as the warm-down to the hot stage! That evening was a nice dinner put on by the organizers on the beach front together with the award ceremony. A group of fire dancers treated all of us to a fine spectacle of energetic dancing and some big flames!
Stay tuned for Stage three’s action!
Thank you Daniel from SD TEAM.