From cyclists to highwaymen: 7-Eleven Tour 2019 @ SCTEX

Rediscovering cycling in 2013, I immediately found I had missed out on a magical cycling event in 2012 organized by 7-Eleven, in honor of their 700th store location. That event gave participants the chance to ride a closed-down section of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). For people in the US, this is a high-speed toll road which I consider the closest equivalent the Philippines has to California’s Highway 5, as it cuts through swathes of mostly agricultural land.

While there were duathlon events before which had their bike leg on SCTEX, people had to wait a full seven years before a repeat of 2012’s pure cycling event would happen. I decided to grab the opportunity, now called the 7-Eleven Tour 2019.

Photo credit: 7-Eleven Tour Series Facebook page.

For 2019, the race starts at the SCTEX Clark South exit. Participants then ride towards either Floridablanca (48 km route) or Tipo (106 km route) before making a U-turn and going back to Clark South for the finish.


Signing up for the event was very convenient: go to their website, select your desired distance, select your starting wave, fill up the relevant information, and receive payment instructions via email. I paid in cash at a nearby 7-Eleven store. They told me to return to claim my race kit in two weeks…which it did, like clockwork.

Jolly well done, 7-Eleven.

For PhP900, it’s a basic race kit, but it does the job. Two RFID-tagged bibs, a number tag, two zip ties, and a finisher shirt round out its contents. As it turns out, my friend Joseph Carunungan’s company Nitto Printing did printing duty here. Honestly, I would rather have this than a more expensive race kit packed with useless fluff. This is registration and race kit creation done right, for the most part.

Always a little jarring to see Hyro stripped of his fenders. I get reminded of how non-aerodynamic he really is hahaha!

My only real issue is with the design of the bibs. The seatpost one is just too big and interferes with many saddlebags, which are a necessity because 7-Eleven requires participants to carry their own spares and service their own bikes in the field should any issues arise. The actual RFID tags really aren’t that big.

I’m pretty sure I screwed up the RFID tags with how they got creased and folded up when I mounted them to Hyro, but meh…que sera sera.

Transporting Hyro to Clark rested squarely on my Minoura Vergo-TF2 in-vehicle bicycle transport base and optional front wheel holder. This was its maiden voyage and served as a test of its capabilities; a full review will be coming soon.


The start/finish line arch.

I rode the 7.5 km from our hotel to the staging area. Once there, I would end up waiting for about 90 minutes, as I was part of Wave L and we were not released until about 6:30 am. Of the 106 km waves, Waves L and M had the most generous cutoffs at 5 hours, 15 minutes. Realistically, I knew I was never going to factor in the top ten, so I left the sharp end of the race to stronger riders, and treated this ride as an audax of sorts.

I’m glad I ended up taking my cycling cap off.

Once we were let out, a quick flik-flak was all that separated us from the smooth tarmac of the SCTEX. It is testament to the impeccable maintenance of this highway that road cyclists can barrel downhill along its slopes, at speeds of 60 km/h and up, as we made our way to Floridablanca.

Once you get used to the novelty of cycling down a motorway, the SCTEX presents its own unique challenges. It’s a wide open stretch of road, so the winds are ever-present, and it’s tough to ascertain where exactly it’s coming from. It feels like you are enveloped in a headwind wherever you go.

If the SCTEX lulls you into a false sense of security or boredom while driving, it flips all that into potential despair and foreboding on a bike. Because the scenery is so flat and samey with each kilometer that passes by, it’s very easy to get discouraged. I made it a point to keep eating a bite of granola bar every 20 minutes to fend off the bonk, as this was going to be a long day on the saddle.

During the first quarter of the 106 km route, all the downhill stretches help you maintain enough momentum to make short(er) work of the climbs that follow. Every bit of preserved momentum helps, and speeds will drop from 50-60 km/h to a manageable 25-30 uphill.

The SCTEX flattens out past Floridablanca, entering into an even windier sector where maintaining a low, aerodynamic position is helpful for conserving energy. I found a little grupetto of four and sucked its wheels for a good 15 kilometers, even taking a pull up front, before the others dropped me a couple kilometers before the gentle climb to Tipo.

I managed to catch up to Manila Coffee Cycling Club regulars Lito Vicencio, James Rosca and Gavin Ng, who started two waves up from me. The summer heat was starting to make itself impossible to ignore. I was still feeling good…but as it turns out, this wasn’t going to be the case for long. Stopping to pick up some very warm water at the Tipo turn-around and hydration station, I entered the third quarter of the route after about 90 minutes.

Approaching Tipo, the doorstep of Subic Bay.

I was unlucky enough to get caught with a smattering of participants who had no idea how to perform a proper overtake. I am fine with getting overtaken, but it is the duty of the passing cyclist to carry enough speed over the cyclist being overtaken. An incomplete, half-wheeled overtake will just result in the overtaken cyclist’s front wheel getting caught in the passing cyclist’s rear wheel, causing the overtaken cyclist to fall. Clearly this point was lost on these half-wheeling guys and girls, and I was wasting energy trying to get clear.

At this point, I was developing pain on the outside of the soles of my feet, which meant I wasn’t putting out the same power as earlier. Trundling along at just under 30 km/h, where I was previously pushing 33 with the grupetto, I was also aware that something about my rear tire was amiss.

And then we found the price we had to pay for the 60 km/h descents.

Elevation profile of the 106 km route.

The final quarter of the route was where the SCTEX bared its fangs. Complicated by the inescapable heat, which we learned had hit a searing peak of 42 degrees Celsius, we had the arduous task of climbing up the slopes of Floridablanca and Porac, and it was pretty slow going. There was some relief in the Floridablanca hydration station, where three volunteers “showered” me with bidons of cold water (very welcome at this point!), but the same wind that had helped cool us down at speed transformed into hot devil’s breath below 20 km/h, prickly to the skin.

A slight downhill opened up to the hardest test of the course: the 8.3-km climb up to Porac. Whatever speed I had carried prior was well and truly decimated, as I was down to 10-11 km/h attempting to spin the cranks as close to 80 rpm as I could. All the while, my feet were under increasingly unbearable pressure with each pedal stroke, and the sun’s heat bore down on us like an invisible hydraulic press. I was grateful the last hydration stop allowed me a refill of relatively cool water.

The cyclists alongside me had seen a couple of loaded tractor-trailers on the other side of the SCTEX, their big diesel mills laboring at slow speed up the same inclines we were trying to pedal up. They remarked, if these things were having trouble climbing these Porac slopes, what chance did we have? I kept at it, although ultimately capitulated at kilometer 96 and stop under some shade for four minutes. My feet were in just too much pain, and I had to let off the pressure even a little, as Lito and James passed me by.

Fortunately, kilometer 96 was also the last of the climbing. It was downhill from there and I was able to aero-tuck my way back home, humming along at 31 km/h and ultimately finishing a few minutes before the four-hour mark.

91st of 190 in my age group, and 524th of 1,224 overall.
Apparently my RFID bibs still worked.
No negative splits here; the second half of the route definitely took much longer to complete.


Yours truly with Lito Vicencio, James Rosca, and Gavin Ng of the Rapha Cycling Club.
Photo credit: Lito Vicencio.

Due to the unrelenting heat and general soreness all over, I didn’t stick around for too long after the finish. Besides, there was little shelter at the finish area and I still had to ride another 7.5 km back to the hotel.

Quite scarily, the finish line arch collapsed right behind me as a gust of wind got the better of it and defeated the lag bolts that had kept it upright, but it fell clear of any potential injured parties. That mishap aside, I was able to catch up with Lito and the gang, as well as Joseph himself, who had successfully completed the 48 km distance on his Tern folding bike, in what was his longest (and no doubt toughest) ride yet.

Some adobo rice toppings, a banana, and a welcome cold bottle of Pocari Sweat later, I was back on the road, too tired to sustain any speed past 18 km/h, and with too soft a rear tire due to the slow puncture finally winning out. It started the day with 85 psi; by the time I got to the hotel, I was tempting the pinch-flat gods at 20 psi.

Data straight from my Cat Eye Padrone Digital cycle computer.
My average speed could have definitely been a little better; I was in the 31 km/h range in the first half of the route. Still, 27.4 km/h is a huge improvement.

What could I have done differently, in hindsight?

Perhaps I should have played a strategic game and taken it a little easier at the start, especially since I would be climbing the same vicious hills that provided that gravity-powered rush to 60 km/h at the beginning. Or perhaps I should have looked for a wheel to draft behind earlier on. Finally, prepping for the race, perhaps I should have changed out that pesky inner tube at the back, or even gone with my ratty old Shimano RT33 shoes instead of the narrower, clammier XC5s, because their wider soles had better forefoot varus support.

All told, I think I did as well as I could have. I trained smart, made good use of my outdoor ride time, and I’m pretty sure some of my weight gain came from muscle. The sun made sure to brand the memory of the event onto my reddish forearms, but this event was a fantastic test of mental fortitude and I had no regrets joining it.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another seven years for a repeat, shall we?

So I brought my bike to Pico de Loro…

This year, my office had its summer outing in Pico de Loro Country Club in Nasugbu, Batangas. I was driving myself to the venue, so on a whim, I decided to pack my bike Hyro in the back of my car in search of riding potential.

For the hardcore climbers among us cyclists, Pico de Loro lies in close proximity to a very popular climbing destination: the Kaybiang Tunnel that sits in the middle of the steep and winding Nasugbu-Ternate Road. Unfortunately, this was not the time for me to face it on the saddle – and maybe for good reason. Nasugbu-Ternate Road is a proper driving challenge, a smoothly paved but narrow asphalt ribbon twisting through the mountains, and I relished pushing 40-60 km/h while staying out of trouble. Its formidable reputation among cyclists is deserved, though.

I wasn’t sure how much free time I would have left for riding, so I restricted myself to the immediate vicinity of Pico de Loro and Hamilo Coast.

The main loop road of the resort is 1.75 km long, with a trio of rotundas and lined with trees almost the whole way through. Tourist shuttles ply the route, with one arriving roughly every fifteen minutes to ferry guests around. The shuttle drivers are some of the nicest and most courteous around; they almost always let me through and waved me to pass as I rode around at 25 km/h.

I strapped my camera bag to Hyro’s handlebars, so mid-ride I stopped a number of times to take photos. It was my first time in the premises, and my wife had asked for visual impressions.

Pico de Loro Beach Club.

While I skipped riding to Kaybiang Tunnel this time, I decided to try the challenge that was the road leading from Pico de Loro Beach Club to the Hamilo Coast gate.

It…was ridiculous.

I started my climb from the Beach Club, so the elevation profile is reversed – and all the steepest bits were at the beginning!

In terms of gradient, it is easily almost as tough as Shotgun. Unfortunately for me, most of the maximum 25-29% grade inclines awaited me the moment I turned off the entrance rotunda and crossed the security boom. Immediately, I needed to summon my lowest 34×27 and 34×30 gears trying to negotiate the ascents as I passed the chapel, cranking away in pain at a crawling 10 km/h.

After cresting the very steep second rise 500 meters in, I was wary of the overcast skies and the singular rain droplets. Discretion whispered that I should turn back before any more rain fell, as descending the severe slope and jittery road surface might make for a very sketchy proposition. Dragging my brakes, I hit 49 km/h in a flash as I returned to the resort.

The surprise is how quickly gravity dragged me to this speed.

I had only scratched the surface. The whole climb is 2.8 km long. Maybe next time, I will reattempt the climb with better weather.

Tagaytay ascent via Amadeo

When I was invited to the creation of the SudRouleurs.CC cycling club by Rommel Cruz and Michael Nera, one of the short-term riding challenges we identified was to ride all the way to the windy weekend capital of Tagaytay City in Cavite province.

One of the nice things about it is there are multiple ways of going there from Metro Manila, each with its own challenges. I suggested a route I had not tried yet: through the little town of Amadeo, the self-proclaimed coffee capital of the Philippines.

Compared to my maiden ride last year, which used the quiet Molino-Silang-Paliparan route and had a final 10-kilometer climb up Aguinaldo Highway, the “Amadeo route” also starts at Daang Hari, but adds roughly 15 kilometers of distance and 200 meters of elevation gain. Plying Crisanto M. de los Reyes Avenue, it’s a popular climb with cyclists. As it starts from Barangay Javalera in the outskirts of General Trias, Strava pegs the full climb at 22.3 kilometers distance, climbing 506 meters at 2% average grade, with a maximum incline of 7.5%.


We met up at Caltex along Doña Soledad Avenue at 5:30 am, but got going closer to 6. As this was a long ride, I told Rommel, the novice of our trio, to keep effort easy to preserve his legs for later. Before we left, he was still abuzz after completing the Alaska Cycle Philippines 40 km Challenge ride, and was in high spirits. We accompanied some of the other SudRouleurs members as they rode to Evia and Daang Reyna, and snapped a few shots before heading our separate ways.

Riding through the end of Daang Hari as it turned into the Open Canal Road, we encountered lots of grazing cows along the roadside as cyclists and vehicular traffic went by. At the end of the Open Canal Road, we turned left southbound into Arnaldo Highway. Midway through, Mike said that while this was outside the Amadeo climb proper, this was where the ascent started, with gentle rises along the road. The 9 am heat was beginning to get to us, so we took the first of many, many recovery breaks at 7-Eleven General Trias.

Plus points for that custom bike rack, 7-Eleven General Trias.

Bottles filled and my companions’ cigarettes smoked, we rode on. Arnaldo Highway emptied into the four-lane-wide Governor’s Drive, where we pedaled on and climbed a few uphill stretches before passing the Lyceum of the Philippines Cavite campus. Soon enough, a left turn emerged marking entry into Crisanto de los Reyes Avenue, the main road of the ascent to Amadeo and Tagaytay, at Barangay Javalera.

Mike and Rommel at the KM 50 milestone in Javalera.

It was here that we turned off into a waiting shed for shelter from the 10 am heat after taking photos at the Kilometer 50 milestone, marking the distance from Kilometer Zero at Luneta Park and Quirino Grandstand in Manila. It was here that I first thought of looking over our equipment.

Mike was on his carbon-framed Giant Defy Advanced 2 endurance bike with a large 32T max cog. Coupled with his lighter body weight, it was no surprise he led much of the uphill sections. Hyro made do with a 30T max cog. When I looked at Rommel’s bike, he had an 11-25T cassette best suited for flat roads and criterium racing. While we all had 50/34T chainrings on our cranks, the 34×25 lowest gear Rommel had would be pretty hard to work with, especially combined with his relative inexperience with long climbs.


As my buddy Timothy once said, climbing the Amadeo route, a cyclist becomes a candle – said cyclist steadily but continuously runs out little by little.

Following Mike and his carbon-frame bike as he led the way.

A couple of things this route has going for it are the generally good road conditions, and the large number of small roadside sari-sari stores you can use to refill your bottles and even buy a banana or five. That said, most of Crisanto de los Reyes Avenue is also a narrow two-lane road (with an occasional hard shoulder) and pretty busy with vehicular traffic, although Rommel noted that most drivers will honk their horns in short blasts from far enough away to let you know that they’re approaching to pass. When they do, most drivers try not to be assholes about it, even though the one-meter margin isn’t as followed simply because of the lack of lane width. These show that the Amadeo route is a pretty established one in terms of cyclist presence, but you do need to keep your wits and situational awareness high nonetheless.

Hyro at rest on a road sign along Crisanto de los Reyes Avenue.

We stopped along three sari-sari stores. At one point I had pulled away from the group so much that I had to stop and wonder where they were. I waited for around ten minutes when they showed up again. Mike had pulled over to buy a bunch of bananas that weren’t fully ripened yet, while Rommel kept tapping along at his pace.

My first cycling selfie. Not too bad.

We kept on going under the heat, spinning away at 16-18 km/h…until the heavens had other ideas around 11 am.

Approaching Amadeo at 11:05 am.

Still following Mike’s back wheel, the clouds rapidly darkened in a thirty-minute span. A few minutes later, large raindrops started falling at low density, spattering the road as we entered the town of Amadeo.

Raindrops sporadically started falling at 11:30 am.

I did tell Mike and Rommel to bring along rain gear before the ride, but the rain fell at such a low density, and the heat was such that I didn’t feel the need to wear my jacket. We just kept tapping out a steady rhythm with our pedals as we climbed. I was still in my third-largest 24T cog for most of the distance.

After a bathroom break at a Petron gasoline station, we tackled the final eight kilometers of the climb, where Crisanto de los Reyes Avenue bared its teeth. The sheer length of the ascent was beginning to make itself felt, and I had to summon the 27T cog to keep my momentum going as the gradient kicked up ever so slightly toward 6-7% and my pace slowed to 13-14 km/h. The surroundings proved reassuring, though, as the trees started to line the roadside and the winds started to pick up. Practically at the doorstep of Tagaytay, I was confident of finishing the climb when I saw Mike calling me, pulled over at a waiting shed next to a school, so I veered off to the right and stopped.

An exhausted Rommel finally makes it out of the storm and makes it up Tagaytay’s doorstep.

We ended up waiting for Rommel there for about an hour, as we put on our jackets when we started feeling the cold. He had taken shelter at two sari-sari stores, because while there was a light shower where we were, farther down the slope where he was, visibility was terrible. He tried to let the rains pass before resuming the climb on very sore legs. After finally reconvening at the waiting shed, a few cigarettes were smoked before we resumed the ascent and finally finished the uphill slog to Tagaytay.


The original plan was to have our meal of piping hot bulalo at Mahogany Market. When we got there, we changed our minds as the bulalo shops had relocated to a second-floor location and bike security would be a problem. We turned back toward Aguinaldo Highway and pedaled toward the Tagaytay rotunda, where we turned into Bradley’s Grill and Bulalo at 2:15 pm.

At our hut waiting for an overdue lunch we worked our asses off for.
The boiled beef bone soup that is bulalo.
Rice and a plate of not-so-crispy tawilis.


After lunch, banter and coffee, we eventually got going at 4 pm for the ride home, bombing downhill along Aguinaldo Highway at 35-45 km/h, jackets on to fend off the chill.

Traffic congestion was setting in, and when the road flattened out, we couldn’t sustain our speed any more. Carefully filtering through stopped cars and evading stopped jeepneys, we kept going until we saw The District mall, which marked the intersection with Daang Hari. Turning right, we kept pedaling at a brisk 30 km/h along the flats next to Vermosa, until we encountered more congestion at Bacoor and Molino. Past the Molino Road intersection awaited the final uphill stretch of Daang Hari, which could instantly kill your 32 km/h inbound momentum and cut it in half as you dump multiple cogs to maintain cadence. This particularly stung for a fatigued Rommel, so I waited for them at Petron Evia at Daang Reyna, our final rest stop.

The sunset skies along Daang Hari.

On the final leg of this epic ride, the sun began to set as we powered on through Daang Hari. I took point as I was the only one among us with a full lighting setup. By the time we emerged into Alabang-Zapote Road we were well and truly riding in the night. My front light cut through the darkness, which had gotten pretty ridiculous in some places.

One of the side streets we took in BF Parañaque was ridiculously dark.

Handshakes galore, we parted ways at Doña Soledad Avenue. After more than six hours of ride time and a whole lot more time immobile, the ride was finished.

It had been an achievement for all of us, but most especially for Rommel. He didn’t have the saddle time nor the gearing for the climb, yet like a true rouleur, he forged on anyway, fatigue, cramps and all. He killed so many proverbial birds with the single stone of this ride: heat, rain, wind, fatigue, and nightfall. I joked that this ride had so many similarities to an audax, distance excepted, and Mike was keen on us joining a 200 km brevet within the year.

We plan on repeating the Tagaytay route some time later, after Rommel gets a better cassette and clipless pedals and shoes.