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%.

 

THE ROULEURS ROLL OUT

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.

CANDLES UP THE MOUNTAIN

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.

PARTAKING OF OUR REWARD

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.

A GRAVITY-POWERED RUSH INTO NIGHTFALL

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.

Maiden climb of Timberland’s Shotgun

On the last day of May 2015, we paid another visit to that mecca of cyclists, Timberland Sports and Nature Park, located in San Mateo, Rizal province. It’s home to various mountain bike trails and two famously formidable road climbs, affectionately nicknamed “The Wall” and “Shotgun.”

According to Strava, Shotgun is a Category 3 climb with an average incline of 7%. Ignore that average as that doesn’t really tell you anything. Per the elevation profile, there are a lot of places along its five-kilometer stretch that push double-digit inclines, working to 35% up to a knee-busting 45% maximum.

Having had no warm-up at all, it took me a total of two hours and ten stops to crest this climb. There is a bit of “recovery” in the form of a downhill stretch, where you can tuck in and coast to 45 km/h, but any momentum built up there is quickly killed as Shotgun’s final incline looms in the distance.

Photo taken by Timothy Lacbay.

On a ‘cross bike like Hyro, with 36x30T gearing, it’s pretty much impossible to climb Shotgun without zigzagging across the concrete. With lower gearing, mountain bike riders have it a little easier. Shotgun is made all the more imposing by the lack of protection from the elements, the lack of company, and the dump trucks that crawl up the road every ten minutes or so.

Finally, as you crest this punishing climb, all that awaits you as your prize…is a shabby guard outpost.

No wonder everybody else is climbing The Wall. It’s slightly less punishing (but still averages 7%); with more trees; more runners and cyclists; and various places to get food from at the end of its toughest first segment.