The flamboyant and outspoken three-time national tour champion, Jesus Aquino Garcia, Jr., is among the most revered legendary cyclists this country has ever produced. The all-rounder team captain has been known for his physicality, historically leading his teammates to overall leadership sixfold in his cycling career. The Mangaldan pride has been acclaimed as the only recording singing cyclist of the land. His famous song “Buhay Siklista” had become the anthem of the boys of summer spectacle on two wheels back in the day.
Jesus “Biking Jess” Garcia is a war child, born to his namesake Mexican-American World War II veteran father and a Pangasinense mother. The wartime baby who soon came to prominence was born in Mangaldan, Pangasinan on 18 December 1945, a week before Christmas day. No wonder his name is Christmassy.
His penchant for biking started on 2 November 1962 when his mother gifted him a priceless razor bike with multiple gears. Biking Jess even slept with his bike in those days.
Two months later, on 18 January 1963, the budding wheeler took part for the first time in an amateur criterium race in a town fiesta in the adjacent San Fabian Municipality at 17 years old, impressively clinching third.
In the same year, the promising Mangaldan rider officially began his cycling career after passing the Philippine national cycling elimination. He finished third in the National Open Road Race Cycling Championship.
Garcia was among the six cyclists who competed in the qualifying for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, his dream of participating in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was disrupted due to the alleged disparity in the shortlisting and selection process.
Unperturbed, the unwavering Mangaldan pride instead pulled out all the stops to participate in professional cycling in 1965. Eventually, he had a plum endings, becoming the Tour of Luzon first runner-up in several races in 1965 and 1967, competing with the former back-to-back tour champions Jose Sumalde (1964-1965) and Cornelio Padilla Jr. (1966-1967), a law graduate, before the fabled tour’s three-year lull (1970-1972).
In 1973, the late Atty. Geruncio Lacuesta revived and reinstituted the endurance cycling classic popularly known as the Tour of Luzon. The premier summer spectacle’s 14th edition ran from 11 May 1973 to 20 May 1973. Eagerly, eight teams comprised of Central Luzon (red), Bicol (light blue), Dagupan (violet), Ilocandia (maroon), Metro Manila (white), Mindanao (light green), Pangasinan (brown) and Visayan (orange) went in and signed up for the 1,214 km-highly-competitive race.
The eight-man riders from eight competing teams, equivalent to 64 accredited wheelers, traversed five Luzon island regions, such as the National Capital Region, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon, Ilocandia Region, and Cordillera Administrative Region. The most talked-about Tour of Luzon edition concluded at Amoranto Sports Complex, where the rip-roaring crowd of 20,000, including former PC Chief Fidel Ramos, cheered the road warriors on after the backbreaking grind.
Ultimately, the Pangasinan all-rounder, Jesus A. Garcia, Jr., emerged victorious in the lung-busting ten-day classic fourteenth edition of Tour of Luzon in 1973. Following his feat, the Pangasinan pride received many commendations aside from the Presidential trophy that former President Ferdinand Marcos sponsored through the former First Lady Imelda Marcos at the Malacanang awards ceremonies. Likewise, Garcia received cash prizes as the overall leader, as the four-time lap winner, as the edition’s mountain climber, and for retaining the leadership throughout.
Garcia was a dark horse in the 1973 Tour of Luzon. He had a total elapsed time of 34 hours, 38 minutes and 36 seconds, only 54 seconds ahead of his closest rival and teammate, Cesar Catambay, the Tour of Luzon neophyte and Garcia’s prodigy and townmate, in the overall individual general classification.
Before the 1973 Tour of Luzon, Garcia weighed about 129 lbs and stood 5’7 and ¾.” However, after the said tour, the 1973 Tour of Luzon titleholder tapered off, weighing 124 lbs. Currently, the Pangasinan Hall of Famer is 181 lbs and stands shorter at 5’7 and ¼.”
Little did we know, the spirited 1973 tour champion is the first cyclist in the Philippine cycling history who swept the overall leadership from stage one to the final stage during the newly revived Tour of Luzon’s 14th edition. It was only in 1992 when Marlboro Tour champion Renato Dolosa achieved the same feat.
After his wire-to-wire victory in the 1973 Tour of Luzon, Jess Garcia Jr. was telegraphed and invited by Vicor Music Corporation for an interview and screening after Vicor Music talent coordinator, Mr. Nestor del Fierra, scouted the would-be 1973 Tour of Luzon overall champion after capping off the stage 8 in the home of Dinengdeng Festival, Agoo, La Union.
The Vicor Music talent coordinator happened to see Garcia in the crowd and only discovered the potential of the singing cyclist after the then exhausted overall leader granted the request of the late Atty. Geruncio Lacuesta, the Father of Tour of Luzon, to render an intermission during the exhilarating awarding ceremony staged in Agoo, La Union national road. The rest is history.
Biking Jess Garcia, under the guidance of Mr. Ernie Dela Peňa, became an instant singing sensation after the former’s Buhay Siklista single under Vicor Music record label, Plaka Pilipino, reverberated and made waves nationwide.
In the same way, Garcia collaborated with the former Vicor Music artists such as Victor Wood, Boy Mondragon, Julius Obregon, Neddie Decena, Romeo Miranda, Jay Ilagan, Joey de Leon, among others. Manong Jess Garcia is a former member of the popular ’70s hit group, Hitmakers.
From 1975 to 1977, the Mangaldan steelman had pedaled under the banner of COSMOS Bottling Corporation in numerous two-wheeled competitions after taking a break in 1974.
In the first quarter of 1977, the Pangasinan seasoned cyclist proved he’s still in the prime of his career by dominating the Tour of PICCA (Philippine Industrial Commercial Cycling Association) fourth edition, his second championship title in his professional cycling career.
Besides, Jesus Aquino Garcia, Jr. is the first to win the overall individual general classification of the first-ever Marlboro Tour of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in June 1977, his third crown in his Philippine cycling career.
According to the three-time cycling tour champion, 1977 was the zenith of his professional cycling career.
The following year, on 19 April 1978, after careful consideration, he migrated to the United States to live with his father in Pharr, Texas.
In the same year, in California, Garcia turned the page and partook in an amateur cycling race at Santa Barbara Cycling Grand Prix where he competed with Tour de France veteran, Phil Anderson, who dominated the said competition. More than 100 cyclists, mostly Americans and some Europeans, engaged in this competition.
In 1985, unknown to cycling buffs and pundits, the expat, Jess Garcia Jr., won the National Cycling Championship in Guam, a United States protectorate.
Subsequently, Garcia worked with the Guam Tribune as a budding reporter. He greatly acknowledged Mr. Rhee Fernandez Hortaleza along with Mr. Jun Velasco as his guiding spirit and influencer in writing. Into the bargain, he recognized Mr. Al Mendoza and Mr. Recah Trinidad whom he considered as his mentors.
Speaking of food preferences, the veteran professional rider prefers culinary herbs. His most favorite vegetable dishes are pinakbet and monggo. These are the recipes that he included in his regimen back then aside from physical exercises such as swimming, basketball, jogging, weightlifting, and the like.
The Mangaldan native added that cycling is arguably the most physically demanding sport, as biking involves laborious physical effort, braving scorching heat and different weather conditions while on the road, aside from its susceptibility to an accident.
By the same token, his batch was the first to ever cross the then unfinished Marcos Highway in January 1977, months before capping his second and third championship titles in his career.
Since 1967, the distinguished wheeler had become the team captain of his close-knit teams. It is also evident in his precious jersey number 71 which represented his leading position in the team in 1973.
Decades ago, if the racer’s number ended in number one, automatically, he was a team leader.
As of press time, the 75-year-old three-time tour champion lives happily in his hometown in Mangaldan town in Pangasinan. Currently, Manong Jess Garcia II has 39 grandchildren from his 16 of 18 children.
The author alongside the fabled singing cyclist and his only Olympian son, Jazy Fernandez Garcia
The author would like to acknowledge Mr. Gorio Belen of Philippine Cycling History Facebook Group who compiled the clippings used in this fascinating blog.