Ride With Pride: Ben Evangelista, World-Class Cyclist
When the Philippines was in the pinnacle of its cycling period, Benjamin Evangelista is one of the athletes who shone the brightest and lifted the Philippine flag in its highest peak.
Evangelista’s 1968 Summer Olympic stint in Mexico put him in the Asian cycling record for completing the 4,000 meter individual pursuit in five minutes and 22.12 seconds. He was 19 years old and the youngest among the three representatives of the country back then. He also participated in four Asian Cycling Championships in South Korea, Singapore, Tokyo, and the Philippines from 1968 to 1977. In these Asian competitions, he clinched two silvers medals for 1,600 meter team trial and 1,000 meter individual team trial for two minutes and 4.24 seconds and one minute and 17.50 seconds, respectively.
Evangelista also seized gold in the 1,000 meter time trial for his one minute and 22 second finish. He is one of the few Filipinos who have a spot in the said tourney. With his achievements, he became the Sportswriters Special Awardee in 1972 and 1973 as the most outstanding amateur cyclist.
He also took part at the 1974 World Cycling Championships in Canada as one of the country’s first delegates along with Maximo Junta, Rolando Hiso, and Rolando Guavez.
Aside from his international stints, he was also a wolf in the local cycling scene especially during the heydays of the Tour of Philippine Industrial Commercial Cycling Association (PICCA). One of his famous performances is during the 1976 Patria Track King showdown where he beat the climber Domingo Quilban in an event witnessed by 7,000 people at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Caviteño also won the championship at the Tour of Pangasinan and Tour of Laguna as well as the Sarsi-Patria bike races. He was also a member of the teams Robins, Urika, and Philippine Air Force.
Evangelista recalls how he and the national team practiced every day, stressing the discipline on lifestyle and vices. And for him, the hardest part of cycling is the training itself. “Minsan sa sobrang hirap parang ayaw mo nang sumipa. Talagang ilalaban mo lang [Sometimes, it will be so hard that you don’t want to pedal anymore. You just have to fight it],” he says.
“It’s different on how the Philippine team is chosen nowadays. Before, they will really focus on your growth once you’ve been picked. Unlike today where they will only get the athletes through elimination which is still not enough.”
Reclaiming the elusive crown for the country isn’t easy. For the Asian Games veteran, there’s a gap on how the squad is being picked today compared to the past. “Iba ang pagpili ngayon ng Philippine Team. ‘Di katulad nung araw na ‘pag napili ka, talagang inaalagaan ka. ‘Di kapares ngayon kung kailan lang kukuha, saka lang mag-eelimination kaya kulang pa din sa training ‘yung ganun [It’s different on how the Philippine team is chosen nowadays. Before, they will really focus on your growth once you’ve been picked. Unlike today, they will only get athletes during the elimination games, resulting to the lack of training and preparation of the athletes,” he shares.
“‘Di kapares kasi nung araw na taon ang bibilangin mo kaya kita mo, nanalo kami ng mga gold kung saan-saan [Unlike before, it will take you years to be part of the national team which helped us win gold in competitions],” he adds.
Although Evangelista had a colorful career, he went to Saudi Arabia as an overseas Filipino worker at the end of the 1982 Marlboro Tour. In 2008, he returned to the country and continued cycling as part of his recovery after suffering from a mild stroke.
Today, the 66-year-old Evangelista continues to ride bikes. People should give cycling a try, he says, not just for racing but also for the simple delights of riding.
Text: Joannah P. Villena | Photos: Ross James Derit | DOP: EJ Guevarra | Video Editor: Chad Simbajon | Additional Photos: Benjamin Evangelista