Young Kazakh rider earns spurs in Le Tour

Daet, Camarines Norte — Promising Vino 4ever Sko’s Oleg Zemlyakov proved he’s more than just a climbing specialist.

Zemlyakov, 22, showcased his sprinting prowess on Friday as he topped the gruelling Stage 2 in dominant fashion and seized the coveted yellow jersey in the 2016 Le Tour de Filipinas here.

The Best Young Rider who also finished fifth overall in last year’s edition, Zemlyakov made his presence felt early on in the Category 2 King of the Mountain challenge at the fabled ‘Tatlong Eme’ in Quezon National Park in Atimonan then unleashed a ferocious attack in the final five kilometers to complete his first-ever stage victory in the annual road race presented by Air21.

“This is my first international stage win so I am happy,” beamed Zemlyakov, a proud native of Petropavl in North Kazakhstan who negotiated the long and winding 204.82-km trek from Governor’s Office in Quezon Province to the Dolor Hotel here in five hours, eight minutes and 48 seconds.

Zemlyakov’s fellow Kazakh youngster, Yevgeniy Gidich, came in at second, 16 seconds off the pace together with Australian native Jesse James Ewart of 7-Eleven/SAVA BRP and Mongolian Batmunkh Maral-Erderne of Malaysian-based Terengganu Cycling Team.

7-Eleven’s Marcelo Felipe emerged as the best Filipino rider as he finished sixth overall with a stage clocking of 5:10:03, the same time submitted by Team Ukyo’s Spanish cyclist Tora Sauador, in the only International Cycling Union race in the country organized by Ube Media Inc. headed by President Donna Lina.

Read: Road repairs halt Le Tour opening stage

After International Commissaire Peter Tomlinson decided to give the remaining 73 protagonists identical clockings of 4:03:39 following the stoppage of the opening stage on Thursday, Zemlyakov has accumulated a total time of 9:12:17, enjoying at least 19 ticks off his closest pursuers.

Zemlyakov is expected to be the marked man going to the final two stages, starting with the 185.79-km challenge to Legazpi City on Saturday.

Vino 4ever Sko manager Sergey Danniker believes Zemlyakov can protect the yellow jersey until the final stage, an out-and-back 160.20-km battle in Albay’s capital city on Sunday, as long as he and his teammates can work their game plan to perfection.

“I’m confident he can keep the yellow jersey,” said Danniker of Zemlyakov, who took runner-up honors in the Tour of Bulgaria and Tour of Szeklerland in Romania last year.

However, Marcelo, 26, admitted the battle for the coveted crown in the annual race which has Petron, MVP Sports Foundation and Smart as principal sponsors remains tougher.

“I’m expecting the other contenders to make their moves tomorrow (Saturday),” said the Nueva Ecija native. “So I think we will be in for another tough outing in what could be the decisive stage.”

But Marcelo, a notable sprinter, was frank enough to admit how formidable the Kazakhstan-based team is, saying: “They are really strong even if most of them are still young. Even last year, we were already contending with them.”

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Zemlyakov and his four other fellow Kazakhs proved too hot to handle as they immediately dictated the pace and never let-up, even controlling the 12-man led group in the zigzag roads of Labo town, some 10 kilometers to the finish.

Sensing Marcelo and his other rivals were running out of steam, Zemlyakov went on the decisive surge entering the town of Talisay and cruised to the finish, throwing his arms in jubilation before an appreciative crowd in front of Dolor Hotel here.

Buoyed by the 1-2 finish of Zemlyakov and Gidich, Vino 4ever Sko took control of the team general classifications with an accumulated clocking of 27:40:34, eight minutes and 16 seconds ahead of 7-Eleven/SAVA BRP. Terengganu is third with 27:49:32.

While Gidich secured the White Jersey as the best young rider, Zemlyakov accumulated 10 points in his KOM challenge win and tied Vino 4ever Sko teammate Zhandos Bizhigitov for the Polka Dot jersey with 10 points.

Serving as major sponsors of the event are Cargohaus, NMM, UFL, Philippine Airlines, Collab Printing Solutions, Autonation, Orangefix and Phenom.

Read: 2016 Le Tour de Filipinas to be a test of endurance