TAGAYTAY CITY: El Joshua Cariño eyes to become the first back-to-back Le Tour de Filipinas champion when the five-stage UCI-sanctioned race fires off here today with the picturesque Taal Volcano in the background.

Cariño, who won the general classification race last year in Baguio City, will vie for the elusive Air21 purple jersey when he traverse the 129 -kilometer out-and-back Stage 1 that that will travel through Tagaytay City.

“The first stage is very important because it can determine the winner or the tempo of the succeeding stages,” said the 26-year old Cariño on Thursday.

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Le Tour20190614 - Le Tour de Filipinas 2019 rolls off today
Jhon Mark Camingao, Jan Paul Marales, Ronald Oranza, Junrey Navarra and El Joshua Cariño of Team Navy pose for a photo prior to the start of Le Tour de Filipinas. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Cariño was the third Filipino champion of the annual race after Balevar Ravina in 2012 and Mark Galedo in 2014.

He will be representing the Philippine National Team along with Navymen Jan Paul Morales, Junrey Navarra, Mark Camingao, and Ronald Oranza.

The national team will be racing against other local squads among them the Marcelo Felipe-led 7-11 Cliqq Air 21 Roadbike Philippines, Go for Gold, Celeste Cycle, and Bike X Philippines.

Teams from China, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and Thailand will see action in the UCI Category 2.2 race. Foreign entries were reduced to nine following the last minute withdrawal of the Hong Kong National Team.

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“Pressure will be there because we are the host and they expect us to finish strong,” added Cariño

The 194.9km Stage 2 race described as a “killer lap” will begin in Pagbilao, Quezon and finish in Daet, Camarines, Norte.

The 183.70km third stage that fires off June 16 will travel from Daet to Legazpi City while the 176km Stage 4 start at Legazpi City going to Sorsogon and Gubat then back to the Albay Capital.

The final 145.80 km stage will pass through Legazpi City via Donsol in Sorgoson.

“We will do our best and work as a team in order to get points that will get us to our Olympic dreams,” said Cariño, referring to the qualifying points for the Tokyo 2020 Games which will be awarded to the winners.

A total of P1.8 million is at stake during the competition.

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