Two months into his European training for his bid to be the first Filipino in the Tour De France, cycling prodigy Junrey Navarra returned to Asia to take part in the Taiwan King of Mountain (KOM) Challenge. With climbing as his specialty, Navarra proved to be a natural fit for the Challenge, conquering the 100-kilometer uphill course (billed as one of the world’s greatest epic climbs) over the three and a half hours to come in 15th out of 500 participants.
Last month, Navarra could be found competing with the Dimension Data for Qhubeka Continental Team in the annual UCI 2.2 Tour du Rwanda. In that race, not was Navarro the first-ever Pinoy to take part in the race, but the team was able to bag 3 stage wins, 1st and 2nd place on the overall individual classification, 1st on the best team classification and a total of 4 winners jerseys! Furthermore, Navarra claimed 10th place in the Mountains classification.
Of the result, Cyclista Sport Director Chris Allison said, that the results, “confirmed what we have been seeing in his training data the past few months. He had come from almost a year out of the sport because of the lack of opportunities to get into quality races abroad, but once back into action in Europe, we saw right away that he was getting stronger in every race and in his day to day training.”
For Allison, himself a former competitive cyclist, the Taiwan KOM race was a kind of warm-up to get Navarra ready for the Tour Du Rwanda after his months in Europe: “Taiwan was a good race to do after leaving Europe to push him toward a small peak for Rwanda. That is an incredible 100km climb from 0 to 3,275 meters!”
When it came to Race Du Rwanda, Sport Director Chris Allison told PlayPH that, despite the relatively small number of Filipino supporters in the country notwithstanding, there were thousands of people who did come out to watch the race. According to Allison, this made all the difference when it came to boosting the racers’ morale and building their confidence.
“Each race has its own characteristics that make it unique and it is always the riders who make a race what it is,” said Allison. “What was incredible in Rwanda was the huge amount of fans who came to stand along the route and watch the race every day. Some days there were literally people lined up shoulder to shoulder for 100km! Incredible experience.”
Allison went on to say that the playing field was now very different compared to a few years back when he was first entrusted to head up the Philippine National Cycling Team. Thanks to programs like Cyclista on television to help spread the word of cycling as a sport for Filipinos to excel, awareness is at an all-time high. According to Allison, a high amount of the credit going to those willing to spend to give cycling hopefuls a shot at the international racing scene, such as Cyclista backers Alaska Milk, Century Tuna, Cervelo bicycles, and ABS-CBN Sports.
“There have been some encouraging initiatives and events which have sprouted up. The Ronda Pilipinas and BGC Cycle Philippines are two examples which have brought more awareness to the sport of cycling in the past few years…There are quite a few individuals and groups out there doing their part to try and help out grassroots cycling. Hopefully in the coming years more and more will be inspired to support grassroots cycling, especially at the youth levels.”
So what does Allison think the KOM and Rwanda races say about Navarra’s journey to the world’s most famous bike race?
“Junrey Navarra has made great strides and is currently the closest a Filipino has come to being in the right environment, at the right moment, with an open pathway ahead of him. Time will tell if he has what it takes but the Cyclista program has broken down a major barrier to entry in this regard. Simply having access and bridge to the top is 90% of the battle. There are lots of super talents out there around the world who simply do not have access or a pathway. The fantastic part is now that we have access, Junrey will not be the only one. The next few years will be quite exciting to see the talent come through the Cyclista program and get their shot at the opportunity of a lifetime.”
For those of us following the paths of the Cyclista athletes and that of Navarra in particular, we can’t wait to see how far this Mindanao boy’s journey will take him.
Image sources: Taiwan Cyclist Foundation, Cyclista