LUCENA CITY: Australian Jai Crawford poured everything he got in his veteran legs to rule the longest and final stage on Tuesday to emerge champion of the 8th Le Tour de Filipinas presented by Air21.
Crawford went all out right in the first 10 kilometers where he and six other riders initiated a breakaway which held on until after the climb at Tatlong Eme in Atimonan—some 30 kms before the finish—to frustrate three-day leader Daniel Whitehouse of Great Britain from winning his first International Cycling Union race as a 22-year-old.
Crawford, unsuccessful with the same Kinan Cycling Team in last year’s race, hinted he had much more left in his 33-year-old legs after the 207.35-km Stage Four that was warmly flagged off in Daet, Camarines Norte, and greeted along the way by a big crowd that lined town centers—including white flag-waving kids in private schools—from the Bicol Region to the whole of Quezon Province.
“It’s not really a race for me because there’s no mountaintop finish,’’ said the former member of the Australian national team. “I normally get a better result in the mountains, but I’m still happy for my team to start the year with a win.”
Crawford was in the hunt in all of the first three stages of the race, which has Petron and UPS as principal sponsors and Philippine Airlines as official airline partner and slipped away on Tuesday when Whitehouse of Terrenganu Cycling Team and the rest of the top 10 were not looking.
Crawford checked in fifth in the stage won by Sanghong Park of LX Cycling Team in five hours and 13 seconds.
Park booked the same time as second-placer Matts Boys of Kuwait Cartucho.Es and Mario Vogt of Attaque Team Gusto, who completed the day’s podium at the conclusion of the event organized by Ube Media Inc. headed by Donna May Lina.
Whitehouse arrived 2:28 after Crawford in the company of strong contenders Benjamin Hill of Attaque Gusto, Stage Three winner Fernando Grijalba of Kuwait Cartucho.Es and Ryu Suzuki of Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team.
Edgar Nohales Nieto of 7Eleven-Road Bike Philippines joined Crawford in the early breakaway and jointly hurdled the lone King of the Mountain at the famed “Tatlong Eme.”
But Nieto lost steam in the final six kilometers toward the Lucena City Hall Annex finish and missed his chance to snatch the general classification title.
“I was in crisis in the last 10 kilometers. I gave my 100 percent in the race for my team and tried to survive but I was totally empty,’’ said Nieto, a Spanish rider who has been living in Dagupan City for the past four years.
Crawford, who hails from Tazmania, already has three International Cycling Union Category 2.2 crowns in his belt—the Le Tour de Filipinas, Tour of Siam (2007) and Tour de Jian last year in Indonesia.
The champion had one thing in mind entering the stage—wipe out the two-minute deficit he had against Whitehouse, who suddenly looked vulnerable after getting caught in the middle of the peloton of the Naga City-Daet Stage Three to lose solid ground.
“I struggled to get where we wanted it,’’ Whitehouse said. “Ideally, it would have been nice if we have two minutes to chase the moment we climbed.’’
Whitehouse, a climbing specialist, said he could have held on had there been more mountains in the race.
“I wish there were more climbs,” said Whitehouse as he gave Crawford a congratulatory hug at the finish.
Whitehouse, however, managed to claim the Best Young Rider award while Park was named Sprint King and Vogt took the Mountain King trophy after the four-day race backed by Petron, UPS, Philippine Airlines, Advanced Solutions Inc., Cargohaus Inc., CCN Sports Philippines, IWMI, NMM Customs Broker, Phenom Sportswear, UFL Philippines and WARM.
Mark Galedo of 7Eleven Roadbike Philippines finished 14th overall to top the Best Filipino Rider category. Team Ukyo from Japan won the team GC championship.
Whitehouse finished second, 28 seconds behind Crawford, followed by Grijalba (51 seconds), Hill (52 seconds), Suzuki (55 seconds), Nieto (1:02), Salvador Guardiola of Team Ukyo (1:05), 2015 champion Thomas Lebas of Kinan (1:05), Vogt (1:28) and Nathan Earle of Ukyo (2:32).