Giro de Pilipinas 2015 Wrap Up

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. 

Giro de Pilipinas 2015 Stage 3

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.