The Le Tour de Filipinas returns with its ninth edition of the "Cradle of Philippine Cycling" set from May 20 to 23 with six Philippine teams seeing action against a formidable roster that includes 10 foreign squads.
None of the four stages of the Category 2.2 International Cycling Union road race breached the 200-km mark, but organizer Ube Media Inc. made sure the routes are competitively technical especially the final stage that finishes in Baguio City.
"Every year, we try to make this race an international-caliber and we are very proud to do this because we want to be sanctioned internationally. We want to have a world-class race for our local riders to race side by side with foreign cyclists," said LTdF chairman Donna May Lina during the event's press launch on Thursday at the Palacio de Manila in Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
The 16 teams are composed of five riders each who will kick off their campaign in the 151.32-km opening stage on May 20 from Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City to Palayan City, Nueva Ecija and tackle a 157.90-km trek from Cabanatuan City to Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya via Dalton Pass.
Stage Three will be a 174.5-km grind from Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, to the Dagupan City finish Pangasinan and the fourth and decisive stage will be a daunting 154.65-km challenge from Lingayen, Pangasinan, to Baguio City via the fabled Kennon Road.
All 80 riders will cover a total distance of 638.3 kilometers in the race co-presented by Air21 and Cignal and which passes through Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija and Nueva Viscaya, three provinces that have produced the most number of Philippine Tour champions.
"We made it a point that all four stages are technically measured," said PhilCycling road and track commission chairman Jun Lomibao, who also shared center stage with LTdF founder Bert Lina and Sunshine Mendoza, the country's first female national commissaire for road race.
"The foreign teams that were invited were practically the same teams which asked to be invited earlier. These foreign teams really wanted to race in Le Tour," Lomibao added. "So we're expecting high-caliber riders and a high level of competitions. Everybody in Asia wants to get as much UCI points as possible."
Former titleholder Mark Gaeldo of continental team 7-Eleven RoadBike Philippines and Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance's Ronald Oranza and national road champion Jan Paul Morales lead the Philippine charge.
Completing the local team roster are Bike Xtreme PH, Go for Gold, CCN Superteam and the Philippine National Team.
Fancied Kiwi rider Daniel Whitehouse, who settled for a bridesmaid finish last year behind Australian Jai Crawford, is also back in the hunt as he takes up the cudgels for Thailand-based Interpro Cycling Academy team.
Also in the hunt are Iran's Pishgaman Cycling Team Iran, Australia-based Brisbane Cycling team and Oliver's Real Food Racing, Mongolia's Nice Devo, South Korea's Korail Cycling, Malaysia's Team Sapura and Terengganu, China's Ningxia Sports Lottery Livall, and Indonesia's KFC Cycling Team.