Many mountain bikers in Metro Manila are familiar with Timberland, San Mateo and the infamously steep road leading to it. Bikers have nicknamed it as The Wall, because climbing it on a bike is like ascending a sheer wall.
Near The Wall is another infamous climb which has come to be known as Shotgun. It rivals The Wall in steepness, but is much longer. Bikers agree that Shotgun is a much more punishing ride, because when the sun comes up, there are hardly any trees on the road which can provide shade and relief from the heat.
Now take The Wall and Shotgun and multiply them ten times and you’ll have a pretty good idea of this route. I am talking about the killer fourth stage of Le Tour de Filipinas 2013–a route which took riders from the town of Bayombong Nueva Vizcaya, through Aritao and all the way up to the country’s summer capital Baguio.
The route is over 133 kilometers long. It features three climbs which have been deemed as Hors Categorie–a French phrase that translates to beyond categorization. It designates a climb so tough that even cars have trouble making it. Two of the climbs exceed 1,500 meters in elevation and feature grades of over 15 percent en route to each summit.
The phrase “separating the men from the boys” simply doesn’t cut it. This route is not for children. Rather, it separates the men from the supermen.
Lee Ki Suk of CCN was able to defend the yellow jersey in the first three stages of the race. But would the Korean sprinter be able to defend his top position going into the killer stage? Or was it time for the heavily-favored Iranians to finally unload? Or would Filipino pride propel a local rider to surpass the competition and claim the race for the host country?
After three stages and 483 kilometers, the field had been cut down from 73 riders to just 61.
On the first King of the Mountain section Dutch rider Thomas Rabou decided to attack. It was a brutal climb which rose over 1,200 meters in just 7 kilometers. But nobody reacted to Rabou’s show of audacity. Rabou wasn’t a threat to the big guns of the race. He was over 12 minutes behind in the general classification.
The tour’s main contenders patiently waited for the right time and let the mountains take their toll. With each climb, the peloton got stretched and broken into smaller and smaller groups. With road grades more proper to roller coasters, the route really took its toll on even the toughest of pros.
Riders bled energy on the ascents. The technical descents were even more punishing. Even Lee Ki Suk, the carrier of yellow jersey became a casualty. He overshot a turn, hit a guardrail and fell off a cliff. Lee would not finish the race. He had to be helped into an ambulance.
Besides Lee, 8 other riders would not finish the race. From a starting field of 61 bikers, only 52 would cross the finish line.
And at the head of the finishers– Iranians Ghader Mizbani and fellow TPT rider Amir Kolahdoz Hagh.
Rabou, who made a solo breakaway early in the stage, was caught by the TPT duo just 15 kilometers from the finish line and dropped. Rabou would finish 20 seconds behind Mizbani.
Filipino rider Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven tried his best to match the power and speed of the visiting riders, but fortune wasn’t smiling on him that day. He also crashed on a fast descent. But in true warrior spirit, he got back on his bike and finished the race.
In the end, as many had predicted, the fourth and final stage became the deciding stage.
Mizbani took home practically all the awards. The two-time Asian champion was given the purple jersey for winning the stage. The green jersey for his sprinting prowess. And finally, the yellow jersey of the overall tour champion.
Denmark’s John Ebsen, riding for Azerbaijan’s Synergy Baku Cycling Project, claimed third place overall.
For his audacious solo attack in the Hors Categorie climbs of the fourth stage… Rabou was hailed as the overall King of the Mountain and given the polka dot jersey.
TPT was hailed as the best team overall. Team 7-Eleven Roadbike meanwhile maintained its standing as the best local squad.
Watch out for the video documentary on Le Tour de Filipinas 2013 on Living Asia Channel. We’re now in the process of editing tons of video from this kickass event. Stay tuned for details! :)