Cycling races that include resort living are on the rise in Asia, races like the Tour of Matabungkay and the Tour of Bintan both offer resort accommodations with picturesque tropical surroundings for riders to unwind after hard racing. As I type this, I am sipping on ice-cold fresh Mango juice and enjoying the laid-back style of Filipino lifestyle. Quite a contrast to the frenzied life in Mainland China, mind you Manila, Philippines largest city is a sprawling metropolis that is in some ways crazier.
The Matabungkay Beach Resort is less than three hours away from Manila, but it is a completely different world in the Southern most tip of Luzon Island. General Manager of the Resort, Rico Violeta, is an avid cycling fan himself. “I want to promote Batangas as a cycling destination and show the world what we have to offer” he said. While out pre-riding some of the stages, it was quite evident that the region has some great roads with punchy climbs and rollers. With the great beach nearby, the cyclist is never far from cooling off if riding is becoming too hot…
The 2011 Tour of Matabungkay is shaping up to be a very tough race; a race that does not favor the climber or the sprinter, but favors a rider that has strong all-round ability. It is also a race that is dependent on your ability to time-trial and the organizers have mapped out extremely challenging parcours for both the team time trial and the individual; so challenging that the winning time in 2010 was only 59 mins, averaging 40.22km/h. But this year’s competition looks like the course record will be broken.
There are 80 riders starting the elite category with several strong teams, including the two-time winner Mossimo Team and The Franzia Wines Teams. Both these Filipino Teams have imported quite a few foreigners to not only bolster their ranks but also to showcase the Batangas region to the world as a destination for cycling. But I think it’s really to strengthen their teams in the bid to win the coveted team title. Mossimo with their 17-strong rider squad with imports Lee Rodgers, Rob Gitelis, and Daniel Carruthers definitely look to be the favorites on paper. A strong challenge to topple the Mossimo Cycling Team from achieving their hat-trick will come from the Franzia Wines Team led by Scotsman Colin Robertson. Roberston has been training specifically for this event for months and the former Scottish time-trial champion will be a formidable force to be reckoned with, especially in the two time-trial stages. Other strong riders include Mark Cook and Damian Barrett, both expats living in Hong Kong.
While out pre-riding the time trial stages, I was impressed with the course they had put together. It is not an easy course and definitely favors the powerful rider that can punch it up the numerous climbs. Stage two is the team time-trial over 30kms and our Mossimo team will have nine riders but only three need to finish for the official team time. For me, it will be a case of riding well at the front over the flat and rolling downhill sections but have to hang on during the climbs. It will also be in the afternoon – the hottest part of the day and it will be important to start well hydrated as we will be coming from completing the 90km road race first up.
I did not expect to find this tour to be predominantly climbs. The first stage features a long 20km climb after 20kms and this is expected to break the race to smithereens and leave the field in tatters. After this first brutal stage, riders will have to pick themselves up again for the TTT in the afternoon. Recovery from the stages will be key to doing well at this tour. The second day features an epic 120kms taking in the best of what Matabungkay offers. The tour ends with a super hard 40km individual time trial; it will be a true test of who is the strongest after a very testing first two days. All of the stages finish atop a tough 2km climb. After staking out the time trial route today, I was sitting with the Mossimo Team drinking coke with ice-cubes and I observed one of the Filipino make himself a raw-egg coke cocktail. We nick-named him Ricky Eggman as he proudly said that it was one of his proven methods for recovery after a hard training ride!
Despite the hard-coreness of the race, riders have the luxury of coming back to the Matabungkay Beach Resort to enjoy some relaxation and fantastic Filipino hospitality and food. Enjoy the fantastic photos below, click on them for larger sizes. Stay tuned for my reports over the next several days. Here is a preview of the race on the Philippine Inquirer.