Lots has happened during our absence even apart from the elephants in the room. One of them, MTN Qhubeka, entered the big league of professional continental cycling and won the Milan San Remo through Gerald Ciolek. A young cyclist from Hong Kong has started to make a huge impact on Asian cycling as Ki Ho Choi won the Tour de Ijen ahead of former Cervelo and Lotto man Oscar Pujol, later won a stage in Vietnam before winning the Tour of Thailand, albeit the latter in fortunate circumstances as Shafiul Aziz got the trots on the final stage. There were already murmurs in Italian cycling press that Choi was being sniffed up by potential suitors in the Pro Tour. Also got to mention OCBC’s first stage win in the TOur of Thailand through all round good guy Loh Sae Keong. Massive congratulations due to them and Choi.
Choi winning the Ijen Crater stage and Indonesia as ever providing good crowds
Elsewhere, a new and very ambitious team from Azerbaijan has started. The Synergy Baku cycling project, headed by David McQuaid, Jez Hunt and David McCann has begun promisingly. They signed gun Malaysian sprinter Anuar Manan, young Danish climber John Ebsen and the good guy Rico Rogers among others including Christoph Schweizer, Connor McConvey (both of whom impressed mightily in the just concluded Tour of Azerbaijan) and the Namibian Dan Craven. Their stated aim is to be in the Tour de France by 2016.
A pretty astonishing kick from Schweizer on stage one-
Stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 here-
We also had the Asian championships take place in Delhi in March. The organisation was largely smooth, though with a glitch or two (especially with regards to the loudspeakers). Mongolia won their first medal with a win in the Women’s ITT through Enkhjargal Tuvshinjargal. India’s girls performed brilliantly in the tracks with four medals through Manorama and Deborah and Manisha got a sixth in the juniors road race. Hong Kong’s Yao Pang won five golds across the board. The main negative was the fact that attendances for the road championships were closed to just the press. This isn’t unique to just cycling, I learnt of it, when I couldn’t enter the stadium, when England cricket’s Performance Programme squad came touring India.
A bit further west, Raleigh went on an Aussie/NZ recruitment overdrive bringing in Tom Scully, Mark O’Brien, Sam Witmitz, Lach Norris and Richard Lang. They also bolstered their lineup with Alex Blain and Eric Berthou.
Also just concluded was one of my favourite races in the calendar, one of the races in Asia which can be seen with teary eyed recollection. Then again, nostalgia doesn’t have facts eh, otherwise it’d be called history. So here are some facts about the race, tis bloody long….
Tour de Filipinas
The first edition of the Tour, then known as the Tour of Luzon, was held in 1955. It was founded by journalist and freedom fighter Joaquin “Don Chino” Roces. A couple of very short excerpts from Vergel Santos’ book ‘Chino and his time’-
“The idea was motivated by sympathy,” union leader Gus Villanueva said.
“Launched in 1955, the Tour of Luzon was for newspaper delivery boys who would wait at the Manila Times plant before daylight so that they could catch subscribers before breakfast,” Santos says.
The first edition was a four lap race from Manila to Vigan, a total of 418 km in length. It was a race that always had close ties to the Tobacco world, and the first edition of the Tour of Luzon was held in conjunction with the Tobacco Festival.
The winner of that race and Filipino cycling great Antonio Arzala on his first race, from the May 14, 1960 edition of the Manila TImes-
I particularly remember that four-lap race. The rules were different, contrast to the rules now. At that time, the rules stated that a lap winner could go ahead of the other cyclists instead of starting with them. When James Herman won the first lap to Tarlac, Tarlac in four hours and 36 minutes, his time advantage over Edgardo Lopez, the runner-up, was 25 minutes; over third-placer Sixto Bola, 34 minutes and in my case, Herman was ahead by 34 minutes and seven seconds. The next morning, Herman was the first to go ahead. Lopez followed after 25 minutes were up. Bola followed after nine minutes and so on. This rule was tough since it allowed no one, particularly the lap winner, to coast along.
Arzala went on to win the race again in 1956 and 59. He remains the most successful rider in the history of the Tour of Phillipines. Arzala won 1000 pesos for his win in 55 and 4525 pesos for his 1959 victory, and more than 14000 pesos through his career.
But this isn’t a teary recollection of two races in the 1950s, it’s a teary recollection of a lot more, Philippines’ equivalent of the grand tour. The Tour of Luzon grew fast, to such an extent that in the mid sixties, it was a 15 lap event totalling 2000km, it held an amateur tour of Luzon, won by Manuel “Maui” Reynante.
Two time winner of the Tour of the Philippines and 3 time Filipino national champion, Jesus Garcia-
Maui was truly determined and illustrious, a legend in his own right. He was my arch rival but I admired and respected him. His record speaks for itself, one of the best riders this country has produced, better than two-time champion Padilla and his conqueror Domingo Quilban.
In 1976, the Tour of Luzon was rebranded as the Tour of the Philippines and held its longest recorded edition- a 24 stage, 4000km brute. The winner of this edition- none other than Maui Reynante. In the mid 80s, Reynante disappeared, only to be found racing in America.
The success of the race though, was dependent on its financial backing. The first Marlboro Tour Ng Pilippinas was a mere 3 stages and took place in 1976, the same year as the 24 stage tour. The length of this race was but a tiny 1697 km long. Jesus Garcia Jr winning the race.
Marlboro played a more significant role in this race with time and took over the title sponsorship of the race in 1981, and later guided it through the period where the Tour ng Pilippinas hit its zenith through the mid eighties and nineties.
The newly refurbished Marlboro Tour held its first race in 1981, a 21 lap, 2780km race. Jacinto Sicam won this race, while Reynante failed to make the top 20.
From 1982 to 1997, the race enjoyed extended success with the longest editions in excess of 3500 km and 20 stages. Carlos Guieb, pictured, was the most successful with his wins in 93 and 94.
The success made the world take notice and in 1997, the race was sanctioned by the UCI and all Asians were eligible to take part in it. Hong Kong legend Wong Kam Po took the overall victory.
Some results from the 1998 Marlboro Tour
The tour lost 60 million pesos in its efforts to organise the final race in 1998 and as a result Marlboro pulled out. This proved to be a terminal blow for the Tour ng Pilippinas, still commonly referred to as the Marlboro tour by local cycling nuts, and the race was not held between the years 1999 and 2001.
Fedex, Airfreight 2100 of Bert Lina and Lito Alvarez, resuscitated the race in 2002 and staged a much shortened four stage event, and in the following years tried to restore the race to its previous stature in 03 and 04 by having 15 and 17 stage events respectively. The tour in its current guise is a 4 stage event, 2 flat, one with some hills and one mountainous stage.
A very short highlights package from the race-
Sohrabi won a stage, Tabriz dominated…. it was like 2011 all over again.
The stage reports can be found here-
Stage 3 which Sohrabi won
Unfortunately, there was some idiocy.
A police escort, obviously trying to impress the big crowd that gathered at the finish, fancily rode his motorbike and ridiculously stopped with 250 meters to go and the peloton sprinting like mad at 50 kph behind him.
As for some current Asian cycling, the Malaysian general elections has given an unusually long break to the riders as the Tour of Borneo and the Jelajah Malaysia have been postponed to June and August. That said, the extended semi vacation’s just about to end as the Asia tour gets back into action for one of the craziest races of the year- the Tour of Japan.
Yes, this is by no means the most in depth blog update by either of us, but please excuse two dodgy blokes who suddenly found a life around September last year.