The heat returned with a vengeance on Day 2 of Le Tour de Filipinas. The longest stage of the tour was likely also its hottest stage as the sun baked the roads from Aparri, Cagayan to Cauayan City, Isabela.
The heat was already making itself felt as early as 8am when riders began arriving at the starting line. It was not yet uncomfortable, but the humidity was palpable. I left the town of Aparri with the TV crew at around 8:30 or about half an hour before the race started to scout for a few scenic spots for filming. Even though it was just mid-morning, I think I already consumed two bottles of water because of the heat. And to think that I was riding in an airconditioned car.
After less than an hour of driving, we found a nice section of road which had ricefields in the background. We hunkered down there to wait for the peloton. We thought we had about an hour’s headstart and were prepared to take it easy, but just a few minutes later we heard the familiar sirens of the motorcycle escorts parting the traffic ahead of the racers.
There was a breakaway group composed of four riders, two of whom were clearly from the Philippines! It seemed that they had built a comfortable lead early on, as the main pack arrived a few minutes later.
Maybe the infamous April heat of northern Luzon was finally tilting the odds in favor of the locals? I and the other members of crew crossed our fingers as we packed up our gear and chased the peloton.
Pinoys make their mark
As the day wore on the temperature rose higher and higher. By the time we were at our next shooting location, the temperature was likely already in 35-37 degree range. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were not a lot of trees along the road on “Marlboro Country” between Cagayan and Isabela.
As we set up our cameras and framed the highway and the hills, we could see heatwaves rising out of the road. I couldn’t imagine myself riding in that kind of heat, much less finishing a 196 kilometer stage.
I also could not imagine how racers could turn up just a few minutes later after we finished setting up. Their speed is just staggering. Weekend warriors like me could probably pedal 20-28 kmh for maybe three hours, but these guys were doing 35-45kmh!
While we reviewed our few precious seconds of footage, we noticed that Pinoy riders Daniel Asto of the Philippine Navy team and Chris Joven of American Vinyl were staying strong in the four man breakaway group together with Azeri Samir Jabrayilov and Dutchman Thomas Rabou. We thought that this was going to be a great day for Pinoy riders.
However, we also noticed that the main pack was gaining on them.
It all comes down to tactics
It seemed like smooth riding all the way to Cauayan. But the roads going up the hills presented a few surprises. Potholes and cracked pavement loosened the tight pack. Some riders tried to bunny hop over the obstacles. Other riders even had flats and accidents.
We overtook the peloton en route to the finish line. We were excited by the thought of seeing Pinoy racers raising their hands as they crossed the finish line in victory.
But the race pulled up another surprise. Instead of seeing just four riders from the earlier break away group, we saw the main pack approaching the finish line.
Safety in numbers—this is something you don’t often hear in sports reports about the race. On a fast flat stage like the one from Aparri to Cauayan, the main enemy is wind drag. A rider who breaks away early in the race has little chance of sustaining his lead in the final few kilometers because by that time, wind drag has already sucked up most of his energy. In contrast, riders who stay in the peloton can expect to reduce the effects of wind drag by as much as 40 percent by riding in each other’s slipstream—thus saving a lot of energy for that crucial final push and sprint to the finish. It thus all came down to tactics.
Australian sprint specialist Luke Parker of Perth Cycling Team took the honors for the stage. But Pinoy rider John Paul Morales of Philippine Team Standard Insurance managed to come in second. Australian Caleb Jones of Team CCN meanwhle placed third.
The yellow jersey meanwhile stayed with South Korean rider Lee Ki Suk of CCN.