With four years of professional cycling experience, Marella Vania Salamat is regarded as the one of the Philippine stalwarts in this male-dominated sport.
Early this month, the former bowler turned cyclist improved her standing from ninth last year to eighth this year in the nine-leg Biwase Cup Tour of Vietnam.
Salamat towed the country to a seventh-place finish in the team classification event.
She edged some 90 competitive women riders in Asia, mostly from Thailand, Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea.
Her teammates Avegail Rombaon (28th place), Genesis Marana (37th) and Irish Wong (60th) also came out with respectable finishes.
“This year is much tougher as compared to last year because there were more teams participating which are really strong and very defensive. Most of them also are sprinters unlike me, who is not,” said the 22-year old Salamat in an interview with The Manila Times.
“My only chance to get into Top 10 is through a breakaway. I did that during the eighth and ninth stage after cutting down the two-minute gap. But it was really hard to find my way out since most of them were really aggressive and defensive,” she added.
Salamat said the Vietnam joust helped her to gain confidence for another race this August – the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“My spirit was uplifted after the race. And I think it will help me a lot in my campaign in the Southeast Asian Games this August,” the Las Piñas City native added.
Salamat is the defending champion in the 30-kilometer women’s individual time trial in the biennial meet.
She was the second Filipina rider to grab a medal in that women’s road race after Baby Marites Bitbit, who took home bronze in the 2007 edition in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.
Salamat was on her second year at University of the East majoring in Dentistry when she decided to stop going to school to focus on cycling.
“Well, of course, I have sacrificed a lot of things. My studies and also my time away from my family,” she said.
For her sacrifices to be worthy, Salamat said she always pushed herself to be on top in every game.
“I want to achieve what I have dreamt for myself and that is do something good for the country. I dreamt of representing the country. And through cycling, all my sacrifices are worth it. I just always remind myself to train harder and do well every races.”
Besides giving honor to the country, Salamat also wants her parents to be proud of her.
“There were times that I feel that I let them down. That’s why in some way, I want to make them proud.”
And she knows that getting a degree will make them happier that’s why she resumed her studies by taking an online marketing course offered by Southville International Colleges.
Ready to defend
Salamat will compete in three more races, first in Tour of Thailand next month, a pre-SEA Games race in May, and another tournament in Vietnam in July before plunging into the SEA Games action this August.
“We will join more tournaments especially local races where we can gauge our speed and endurance against male riders. We should also step up our sprint training in order to fill in our deficiencies,” she said.
Salamat knew in order to win the gold medal again in the SEA Games, she needs to make sacrifices and that’s what she wants to impart to aspiring riders.
“I learned the importance of time, to be committed to what you do, and of course, to keep your feet on the ground and your ears open to suggestions and advices. I believed that these things are what athletes should have,” Salamat said.