CABANATUAN CITY – The last time a Cebuano won a stage in a major cycling competition was when Marlboro Tour champion Rolando Pagnanawon accomplished the feat in 1986.
On Monday, youthful John Rene Mier of Army-RC Cola broke the 26-year-long dry spell by winning Stage 10 of the Ronda Pilipinas, pipping One Tarlac veteran Elmo Ramos in a five-man scramble to the finish following a 120-kilometer trip from San Fernando, Pampanga to here.
Racing with the seven-man breakaway group as they descended the 77.9-km mountain segment in Palayan with 40 kilometers to go, the 19-year-old Lahug City native stuck to the coattails of Ramos then sprinted ahead in the last 300 meters to the finish line in front of Plaza Lucero in downtown Cabanatuan.
On a day that many of the top guns decided to take it easy, Mier checked in with a time of three hours, 46 minutes and 41 seconds to become the first Cebuano in recent memory to capture a leg in a major race since Pagnanawon.
“Medyo ginugulangan kami ni Elmo kaya ginulangan ko na rin,” said Mier, who surpassed his third-place finish in the previous leg to earn P50,000 for the day in the cycling marathon presented by LBC and backed by Total, MVP Sports Foundation, Rudy Project, IcomIdas and Maynilad.
Tarlac City’s Ramos, 32, who rose to fame when he became the first and only Filipino cyclist to wear the yellow jersey in the 2004 Tour of Langkawi, Asia’s premier race, clocked the same time and earned the runner-up purse of P25,000 while Northern Luzon-Ilocos Sur’s Ronald Oranza got P15,000 in taking third.
Central Luzon-Tarlac’s Johnny Bautista took fourth while a pair of Novo Ecijano riders – V-Mobile’s Orlie Villanueva and Oscar Rendole – were foiled in making their provincemates proud as they ran out of gas and finished fifth and sixth in 3:46.41 and 3:46.44, respectively.
Overnight overall leader Mark Galedo of Roadbike Phils. remained on top as he played cat-and-mouse with his main rivals and finished with the 55-man main wave who all logged 3:49.05, 2:24 behind the frontrunners, in the province of 1989 Marlboro Tour kingpin Armando Catalan.
After the 10th stage, the 2009 Tour of Luzon champion has a total time of 40:42.47, maintaining a 16-second lead over Eastern Pangasinan’s Harvey Sicam (40:43.03) while Navy Standard-Insurance’s Lloyd Lucien Reynante was 1:39 behind and kept third place (40:44.26).
“Medyo bantayan lang muna ngayon hanggang bukas at huwag lalayo sa mga nalalapit na kalaban,” said the 26-year-old Galedo in his pursuit of the top prize of P1 million offered by the country’s preeminent package and courier services company.
Neither was there any change in the overall team standings as Metro Manila (121:08.20), Navy Standard-Insurance (121:12.16) and One Tarlac (121:16.32) all retained their 1-2-3 positions following the short stage raced under windy and scorching conditions of as high as 31-degrees Celsius.
As expected, it was another day for the bikathon’s speed demons with Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Alfie Catalan of Army-RC spearheading the first seven-man breakaway that included One Tarlac’s Joseph Millanes and American Vinyl-LPGMA’s Rudy Roque at the 50-km point in the town of San Leonardo.
A native of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, Rendole caught up with the group and banked on his mountain skills to reach the summit first of the uphill portion in Palayan, using it as a springboard to wrest the solo lead with 27 kilometers left.
But he was unable to sustain his fast pace as Villanueva, Navy-Standard Insurance’s Frederick Feliciano, Ramos, Oranza, Metro Manila’s Dominador Marana and CTL’s Johnny Bautista all caught up with him seven kilometers later.
Just past the “Thank You” arc of Palayan City, Mier, who was in the chase group, pedaled like mad and reached the frontrunners entering the outskirts of Cabanatuan with 15 kilometers to go, making it a free-for-all from thereon.
All remaining 75 riders will have another somewhat easy ride in the next stage, a 122.2-km sprinter’s delight from here to the Pangasinan provincial of Lingayen City, which recently hosted the Palarong Pambansa, with no less than Pangasinan governor Amado Espino greeting them at the finish line.
But race director Rick Rodriguez warned the cyclists not to be complacent “because anything can still happen, although I expect the top cyclists to ride smart considering what lies ahead.”
And what looms ahead could prove to be the decisive stage of all after the road warriors take a rest on Wednesday following today’s stage before they tackle the rigorous 96.7-km uphill trek from Lingayen to Baguio City.
“Eto yong mga hinihintay ng mga climbers dahil sa palagay ko dito na magkakakitaan kung sino talaga ang magaling,” AMV-LPGMA coach Renato Dolosa pointed out. “Bukas (sa Stage 11) pahinga muna halos ang lahat.”
For more 2012 LBC Ronda Pilipinas highlights videos and pictures, go to the website www.rondapilipinas.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/RondaPilipinas, the Ronda Pilipinas Channel on Youtube and Twitter @rondapilipinas.
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