Le Tour kicks off today in Tagaytay.
by Nick Giongco
TAGAYTAY CITY - All eyes will be on defending champion El Joshua Carino when the 10th edition of the Le Tour de Filipinas gets rolling Friday with the 129.5-kilometer stage that will see 75 riders from five local and 10 foreign teams traversing a route fraught with climbs that will immediately put to them to the test.
Carino, 26, aiming to become the first back-to-back titleholder of the country's premier road race, admits the pressure is starting to mount and that crucial in his bid to pull off such a feat will be making sure he places well in the first two laps.
"After the first and second stage, dapat maganda na ang pwesto (After the first and second stages, I should be among those in the lead)," said Carino, whose family has a storied history in Pangasinan cycling.
Carino's relatives, Samson and Ruben Carino of Mangaldan town, were champions of yesteryears while a younger brother Daniel Ven, is also a fast-rising rider.
Riding under the Philippine national team, Carino also has teammates a solid cast made up of John Mark Camingao, Jan Paul Morales, Ronald Oranza and Junrey Navarra.
Also contending for honors are four other local teams - Celeste Cycles, Go for Gold, 7-11 Air21 and Bike Extreme - and an international force composed of China, Japan, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
Carino is aware of the threats to his crown and sees it is as more of a challenge.
"Excited sa karera... panibagong challenge (I'm excited to race... new challenge)," he added, noting that he is in tip-top shape knowing that favorable results in the first two legs are crucial in ruling the five-stage road spectacle.
After the kickoff stage here, the competition moves further down south to Pagbilao in Quezon, for the 194.9-km ride to Daet in Camarines Norte on Saturday for Stage 2. The third will be another long one - 183.7 km - from Daet to Legaspi in Albay while fourth (176 kms) and
fifth (145.8 kms) will all be in Legaspi via different routes.
Le Tour 2019 chairman Donna Lina is dangling P1.8 million in cash prizes of the event that is sanctioned by the UCI.
Aside from Carino, the only other Le Tour winner from the Philippines are Mark Galedo and Baler Ravina, while the previous champions include Irish Olympian David McCann, the inaugural winner in 2010, Jai Crawford of Australia, Oleg Zemlyakov of Kazakhstan, Thomas Lebas of France and Iranians Ghader Mizbani and Rahim Emami.
Members of Team Pilipinas (from left) - Jhon Mark Camingao, Jan Paul Marales, Ronald Oranza, Junrey Navarra and El Joshua Carino - are shown at Summit Ridge Tagaytay in Gen. Aguinaldo Highway as they prepare for the Le Tour de Filipinas 2019 which kicks off today. (MB photo | Kevin Tristan Espiritu)