With regional cycling powerhouses Malaysia in a league of their own, the battle in the OCBC Cycle South-east Asia Speedway Championship final yesterday was always for second-best.
The Philippines opted to keep sprint specialist Marko Alab Samwel Guinto Adviento as their trump card, allowing him to cruise for the bulk of the 10-lap race before a late dash against Brunei for the finish.
It was a strategy that failed to pay off, however, as the Filipinos finished third behind Malaysia and Brunei, bronze medallists last year.
The Malaysians were never troubled in their quest for a second straight title, leading wire-to-wire and finishing in 18min 5.283sec for the champions' cheque of $6,000.
Brunei were second (20:07.523) and the Filipinos would have been just a fraction of a second behind, if not for a 10-second penalty given after the race (20:17.583).
The penalty was given after one of their riders who completed the first half of the race did not get off his bike before the dismount line as he passed his wristband to a team- mate riding in the second half.
Brunei's riders cut relaxed figures, waving and smiling to spectators and happy to hang back. For they were prepared to deal with what the Philippines might try.
Said team captain Azmi Abdul Hadzid: "We knew that the last Philippine rider is a sprinter so we just maintained our pace and got ready to sprint after the last corner."
Said team coach Mohd Yafiz Jamaludin: "This (event) is our benchmark for the SEA Games. Because of this result, I'm fairly confident we will get to compete at the SEA Games. We will try to send a bigger team and do well there."
With no real competition put up against them, Malaysia's final two riders could even afford to cruise across the finish line with their hands joined aloft in victory.
Said team captain Muhammad Fauzan Ahmad Lutfi: "The stronger teams like Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand didn't participate this year, so we were very confident of retaining our title.
"It was an easy race. We wanted to show the other countries before next year's SEA Games that we are going to be a very strong team."
Hosts Singapore, runners-up last year, were unexpectedly eliminated in the qualifying rounds.
Drawn with Brunei and the Philippines, they were more than seven seconds off a finish that would have earned them a semi-final place.
National coach Adrian Ng revealed that one of his team members, Raymond Quek, had a muscle seizure in his calves and thighs.
"By the time he was finishing, his whole body was cramping up," he told The Sunday Times. "This is quite a disappointing result for us as a team, but it brought our team closer. Raymond was taking all the responsibility and burden but his team-mates were encouraging him instead of pointing fingers.
"This will be a good learning point for us. It will be a good case study at the management level to see what happened, to re-look our protocol, understand what led to it and what needs to be changed so that so that it won't happen in our next races and at the SEA Games next year."