IT is fitting that a country that hosts a race calendared by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the world-governing body for cycling, maintains a UCI continental team.
For four years now, 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines has been doing the rounds of the UCI road circuit, representing not only the convenience-store brand, but more important, the brand of Philippine cycling.
Grizzled veterans are what Filipino cyclists are known for, a quality that was molded from the fabled Philippine Tour—a tradition born with the Manila-Vigan Race in 1954 and transformed into the Tour of Luzon, Marlboro Tour, Tour Pilipinas, Padyak Pinoy, Ronda Pilipinas and, now, the Le Tour de Filipinas, a UCI race calendared in the Asia Tour.
So that’s where7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines fits in to a T.
The 12-member continental team, an offshoot of what was then called trade team by the UCI, Pagcor Trade Team in the early 2000s, 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines has made a name for itself in the continent, bringing the Filipino brand of cycling to foreign soil to the amazement of foreign riders from all corners of the world.
And with a full four years of grinding against the best in Asia and the world, the team has set its sights on contributing one or more Filipino cyclists to the Olympic Games, now a rare achievement, since the UCI implemented qualifying standards in Seoul 1988.
“We want the Olympics. We will work hard for this. It will be tough, but we are determined to make everything possible,” 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines Team Manager Ric Rodriguez said.
But to do that, the continental team riders must compete in as many UCI races as possible, accumulating points that would qualify them not only for the Olympics but other major international events, as well, like the World Championships.
“Cycling has become a phenomenal sport in the world. We should cope with the trends. That’s why I am always in talks with the [cycling] federation. We should be working this out for the benefit of our athletes,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is also a director of the PhilCycling, the national federation of the sport headed by Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino of Tagaytay City. Together with the PhilCycling, the slogan is “Road to 2020,” which means qualifying a Filipino or two to the Tokyo Olympics.
No Filipino has ever participated in Olympic cycling since Los Angeles 1984, until 2012 in London, where Filipino-American Daniel Caluag qualified for BMX’s debut in the Games. Caluag didn’t make the podium in England, but won the country’s lone gold medal, also in BMX, at the Incheon 2014 Asian Games.
One of the most convenient ways to qualify for the Olympics is for a rider to compete in UCI races to earn ranking points. But to do that, he or she must be a member of a continental team.
A continental team is a professional squad registered with the UCI and composed of cyclists, the majority of whom are nationals of the country to which the squad is registered.
As for 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines, no less than 70 percent of its riders are Filipinos, led by 2014 Le Tour de Filipinas and 2012 Ronda Pilipinas champion Mark Galedo, also the individual time-trial winner in the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar.
In the recent 2016 Jelajah Malaysia, four 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines riders finished in the top 10—Galedo was fifth, Spanish recruit Edgar Nohales Nieto sixth, Marcelo Felipe eighth and Rustom Lim, a former Asian juniors bronze medalist, ninth.
Cycling, like all other sports, needs long-term planning for its athletes to improve to world-class standards. And to achieve an ambitious goal, Rodriguez said it is only sound for Filipinos to compete in as many races as possible.
“We are eyeing our riders to make the team to the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Championships and the qualifiers for the World Championships for them to improve rungs higher,” Rodriguez said. “We must join all available contest because through that, our cyclists acquire points, and if we pile them all up, it would be easier for us to aim for Tokyo.”
With 7-Eleven-Sava Road Bike Philippines doing its trade overseas, the country has floated from No. 11 to No. 15 in the Asia rankings, a sign that Tokyo 2020 is one achievable goal.