On 8 March 2021, the three-time tour champion Jesus A. Garcia Jr. alongside his two-time Guam Olympian son, Jazy Garcia, and the author had an opportunity to meet one of the living cycling legends in the country’s history.
The distinguished former cycling tour champion we paid a courtesy call was once a farmer before he made waves in Philippine cycling in the 1950s.
It is truly an honor meeting Rufino Gabot, the Tour of Luzon second edition overall champion in 1957 and acclaimed as Pangasinan’s first professional cycling champion, in the flesh.
Manong Ruping, as his friends fondly call him, hails from the Municipality of Laoac, Pangasinan, a former barangay of Manaoag Municipality. The eldest son of Santos Gabot and Regina Nerona was born at midnight of 4 September 1935. The former tour champion is now 85 years old.
Decades ago, before joining Tour of Luzon in the 1950s, Manong Ruping leisurely used to stream the rugged roads of Ilocandia Region and neighboring Cordillera Administrative Region equipped with his single speed bicycle.
In the first edition of Tour of Luzon, participated by 95 cyclists, Gabot only placed second to Santa Rosa, Laguna Cycling Great Antonio Arzala, an orphan and errand boy of Voz de Manila and Manila Times way back.
In 1957, he encountered the 17-year-old singer, Carmen Lopez, in Manaoag Town. They tied the knot on 21 January 1957.
In the same auspicious year when he will be memorialized, Rufino Gabot, under the banner of Ilocandia team, captured the highly coveted eight-day Tour of Luzon championship title after winning several laps.
After retiring from cycling, Rufino Gabot was employed as a mini-bus driver plying Binalonan to Dagupan City vice-versa.
Now, in his twilight years, the Pangasinan pride is experiencing moderate hearing loss and is noticeably suffering from a cataract. But still, he will forever be remembered as the first Pangasinense who brought fame and honor to his province through his exceptional skills and passion for cycling.
To date, Pangasinan has already produced 21 cycling Hall of Famers since Gabot first ensnared the Tour of Luzon championship crown in 1957, followed only by Manila with six cycling champions.
The Province of Pangasinan has since been dubbed the Home of Cycling Champions and still not been supplanted for decades now.