By Steve Thomas
The Tour of Luzon is without doubt turning into a magical mystery Tour, in many ways — including the variation in the stages and racing. After several flat circuit-based stages and a time trial, the race headed into the Wednesday, finishing up with a monster 4-kilometer climb to a monastery close to the small rural city of Tarlac.
The city of Angels was a last minute choice for the stage start point, and was a town once infamous for its “servicing” of U.S. servicemen based in nearby Clarke. Seemingly it still clings onto its fading denim shorts and old vests, as it was still twenty years ago, when it was perhaps the most infamous city in the Philippines.
The racing was hot and windy from the start, with the ever-aggressive locals attacking like hornets. Although it was stated as a rolling stage with a 4km climb to the finish, few of the riders had anticipated anything near so ferocious, in all ways.
A small group of Filipino riders had gone clear early in the 133km stage, but Kelly Benefit Strategies and the South African-EMG team seemed determined to blast the hell out of the race, which duly split into the dusty headwind, leaving a group of around 15 riders at the head. The group contained three KBS riders, and a mixed bunch from the other teams, although the yellow jersey of KBS Ryan Anderson was notable by its absence. But with four riders driving hard at the front it looked to be yet another dominant day for the Kelly green train.
As the race did a near-U-turn in the city of Tarlac, the road thinned down, turned to concrete and the real battle commenced. From here on in there was to be no flat and easy ride for anyone. A constant barrage of short draggy climbs shred the break, and with the constant attacks from the Filipino riders, the KBS boys began to look seriously under pressure, for the first time during the race.
Fifteen kilometers out and local Tarlac rider Tomas Martinez of the Smart Team took his turn to attack. The KBS boys and EMG tried to chase, but the gas was running low, and they could not get anywhere near to closing on the punchy local boy.
The twisty and gritty concrete road weaved its way through spectacular sun bleached countryside, and then hit the base of the final climb. The estimate on the gradient had been 8 percent, but in several places it was closer to 18 percent something most of the riders simply had neither the gears or the gas to deal with.
Martinez was well clear, but EMG rider Dennis Von Nickeyk was looking ultra strong and closing in fast, with several of the other riders scattered in their wake. One last left-hander and the road swung up steeply with Martinez gritting hard to turn his 38×25 gear on the climb, clearly showing the advantage of his local knowledge; “The Americans (KBS) were very strong, I attacked and went flat out. This is my hometown, and I know the climb very well, so knew what to expect,” grinned the pride of Tarlac.
The rest of the field came in around four minutes, but KBS’s Reid Mumford’s gutsy battle with the hill landed him the fourth spot on the stage and the yellow jersey. Von Nickeyk is now second, nine seconds behind. Another lengthy and hilly road stage is “anticipated” for tomorrow.
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