Neutral Zone: Edgar Nohales Nieto

Spanish pro cyclist Edgar Eddy Nieto has been racing in Asia for the last six years and is currently based in the Philippines, where he races for Team 7 Eleven Road Bike Philippines.

In pro cycling parlance the neutral zone is a short section of road traversed by the peloton before racing officially gets underway. It offers a brief moment for riders to casually chat and that is the spirit of the Neutral Zone here. All words are the rider s own, though Cycling iQ has lent spelling and grammatical support where needed.

Images: Tour de Filipinas, Tour de Singkarak

I m Edgar Nohales Nieto but in Asia most people call me Eddy. I m from Valladolid in Spain, 240km northwest of Madrid.

I started bike racing as a junior when I was 15. I m 29 now and I ve been a professional cyclist since 2010 when I came to Asia for the first time to race Le Tour de Langkawi with LeTua Cycling Team (Malaysia). I ve been in love with Asia since that moment.

I raced for Polygon Sweet Nice (Indonesia) in 2013, but the Continental license wasn t continued. In late November 2013 the management of Team 7 Eleven Road Bike Philippines sent me a message on Facebook to say they were looking for some foreign riders to help the Filipinos. So I packed my things and flew to the Philippines.

Cycling here is bigger than people from outside the Philippines think. It is probably the second-biggest sport after Basketball. It s normal that people call my name when I m out training; especially in the North where people are more fanatical about cycling. I have been live on TV three times, and several times interviewed on Radio it s crazy for me!

In Spain nobody knows me but here I drink a coffee on a terrace and somebody wants to take a picture with me; or knows my name or where I last raced. Of course, we re a long way behind Spain; it is one of the strongest nations in the world for cycling and we have a lot of tradition. The Philippines has a lot of cycling tradition too, but it was closed to foreigners in cycling for many years. But little by little, cyclists here are learning how to race, rest, eat and train. Filipinos have a big talent for this sport.

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Team mates Mark John Lexer Galedo and Marcelo Felipe; two of the Philippines strongest cyclists.

From my place in Dagupan (North Philippines) I can ride with team mates who live nearby (Ravina, Perez, Lampawog or Obosa) or with the Cari o brothers from Navy Standard Insurance Team; we live just 7km from each other so we meet many times. I train around 550-600km per week; more if I m preparing for a big event. The team sometimes holds training camps specific to certain races.

Luzon is an island so it s windy; especially between November to March. Central Luzon is flat and the south is hilly. From my place, I can choose to ride flat roads, rolling hills or big mountains. I can climb from sea level to 1,500m and even to 2,100m if I want to. Ninety minutes of climbing without stopping. I love it!

It s hard to find out about racing here; there is no schedule. Excluding Le Tour de Filipinas and Ronda Pilipinas, there are three kinds of races here. The big ones have good prize money more than 10 000 Pesos (USD210) for the winner and normally all the pro riders are there regardless of the province of the race.

Smaller races called Fiesta Fiesta are normally around 50km with pelotons of 30-40 riders from in or near the province where they are held. We ride to and from the race, so it can t be more than 50km away!

Finally there are the Veinte Veinte (20/20) races that are illegal . The riders meet in one place, pay 50 Pesos (before it was 20, hence the name) and race in a circuit around to 20-30km in length. The winner gets all the money. There is a 20/20 race in Manila every Wednesday.

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Traffic is the worst problem. Even big races like Le Tour or Ronda Pilippinas have traffic problems. Normally it s not the fault of the organizer or the police. It s simple: the Philippines is a country with some of the worst traffic in the world and Manila is number one.

7 Eleven Road Bike Philippines becomes 7 Eleven-Sava RBP in 2016. Sava is a bike brand from Germany and we still have our major sponsors 7 Eleven Philippines and RoadBike Philppines. Mr Bong Sual from RoadBike Philippines led the pro team project a long time ago, before 7 Eleven came on board.

The owner of Sava Philippines, Boss Francis, really supports the team. He will provide 16 complete bikes for 2016 and we already have frames until the new stuff arrives in January. Our racing bikes will have Dura ace groupsets and carbon wheels, plus we have Ultegra training bikes with Stages powermeters and Garmin Edge 520 s. So we already look a lot like a European team. Before Sava, the team needed to buy all of its equipment. Now we can afford to go to more races and get paid a little bit more.

All the riders are professionals and get a salary from the team. A few of them have businesses thanks to the money from cycling. Mark Galedo has a bike shop in Manila, Baler Ravina has a farm with 12 cows, Marcelo Felipe also has a farm with a lot of animals (2 cows, 3 pigs, 12 chickens, 5 sheep!), Nelson Martin has a kind of bull typical in the Philippines which is rented out for work in farms and I have a coffee shop in development.

Everybody speaks English in the team. In Luzon, almost 70% of the population has a high English level. The main language for Luzon riders is Tagalo I can understand a little bit and they use this language amongst themselves, but the Northern riders speak in Illocano. Jesse Ewart and myself speak in Italian together. It s so funny.

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I m a big fan of cycling. One of the worst things for me here is sometimes I can t watch cycling races because of the time gap or because I can t get a good signal for streaming. I didn t watch the last four Worlds Championships because I was racing in Asia!

I love being a cyclist, but we re often last of the last. Can you imagine one sport where the referees, team managers and organizers get higher salaries than the athletes or have better hotels? It only happens in cycling. The money is not enough for 80% of the riders. We sacrifice our lives just for passion, for the love of cycling.

Then there s the management. For example, in the Asia Tour; what do the UCI do? Just take the money or what? Am I the only one who sees that in two weeks there is Le Tour de Filipinas, Tour de Langkawi, Tour de Sarawak and Tour de Taiwan then eight weeks with just one race? Seriously, can nobody better organize this calendar? We re not in Europe with a lot of race days. If we have 12 races a year and 4 will be cancelled it makes me upset.

Le Tour de Langkawi is the team s main goal for 2016. We are expecting to get an invitation to Tour de Korea and some of the Chinese races at the end of the year. And of course the new races Tour de Sarawak and Tour de Flores. We ll complete our schedule with the usual races like Le Tour de Filippinas, Tour de Ijen, Tour de Singkarak, Tour de Borneo, Jelajah Malaysia or Sharjah Tour.

I m especially proud that I ve raced on every continent: North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. I m very curious, so I love travelling and meeting new cultures.

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