NAGA CITY – Call it the lull before the Ronda Pilipinas storm.
While the big guns were content to hold back with a pivotal stage looming ahead, Navyman Jan Paul Morales sprinted to his second leg victory in ruling Stage 7 of the 2nd Ronda Pilipinas, a 115-kilometer dash from Legazpi City to here on a rainy Friday.
The Navy-Standard Insurance bet, who won Stage 4 in sunny weather last Sunday, raced under torrential rains triggered by Typhoon Ambo and edged Army-RC Cola’s Mark Aleonar and national rider Julius Bonzo in another massed finish in front of the Naga City hall.
After the 86 remaining cyclists took a break on Thursday at the home of the famed Mayon Volcano following a ferry ride from Port Allen Samar, the 26-year-old Mandaluyong bet took home another P50,000 in topping the leg in two hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds, the same time as 76 others.
Private First Class Aleonar took runner-up honors, worth P25,000, while Bonzo earned P15,000 for placing third in the cycling showcase presented by LBC and backed by Total, MVP Sports Foundation, Rudy Project, IcomIdas and DHL.
“Malaki rin ang naging tulong sa akin ni (teammate) Lloyd (Lucien Reynante) at skipper Santy (Barnachea), kasi bilin sa amin na kailangan nang kumilos,” said Morales, a double bronze medalist in the track event of last year’s Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia.
“Nakadikit lang ako kay John Paul at Bonzo kaya nakatapos ng maayos,” said Aleonar, a Davao City native who finished fourth overall in last year’s edition of the country’s premier road race after a three-year absence from competitive racing.
“Sumama na lang ako sa dalawa ng makakita pagkakataon,” said Bonzo, 22, the pride of Sual, Pangasinan and son of former 1983 Marlboro Tour champion Romeo Bonzo and nephew of 1976 Tour of Luzon king Modesto.
As expected, the top riders, led by overall leader Baler Ravina of Roadbike Phils., took it easy in this stage lashed by a heavy downpour caused by the country’s first typhoon this year.
American Vinyl-LPGMA’s Irish Valenzuela, a proud son of Tabaco, Albay, made the first assault in the King-of-the-Mountain at the 34-km portion just past the Bantayan Bridge in Ligao City, but did not hold the lead for long as the main peloton caught up with him downhill.
It was One Tarlac’s Sherwin Diamsay and Army’s John Rene Mier who tried to pull away with four other riders in the town of Polangui with 60 kilometers to go, only to see their bid dashed as the big bunch overtook them around 10 kilometers later.
Roadbike Phils. skipper Mark Galedo and AMV-LPGMA’s Rudy Roque also had short-lived stints at the lead with 30 and 25 kilometers left, respectively, and who were both eventually reeled in to the main group.
Ravina kept the LBC red jersey for the fifth straight stage since his sensational win in the 227-km Tagum-to-Butuan third leg, holding top spot with a total time of 27:29.49 and a 59-second lead over second running One Tarlac’s Joseph Millanes (27:30.47).
V-Mobile’s Oscar Rendole (27:31.25) was still in third place a minute and 27 seconds behind the frontrunner.
V-Mobile (81:47.25) likewise kept its slim seven-second lead in the overall team classification over One Tarlac (81:42.31) while Roadbike Phils. was steady in third place (81:43.57) and within striking distance just 93 seconds behind the pacesetter.
That the squads did not make any drastic moves yesterday was understandable, said V-Mobile team manager Ceazar Guillarte “kasi lahat naghahanda sa sususunod na stage 8 na mahaba, matarik at winding patungong Lucena.”
Indeed, Guillarte said he expected a major upheaval in the individual and team standings in the second-longest stage of the competition, another 209.2-km marathon leg from the Camarines, Norte provincial capital of Daet to Lucena City with two mountain-climbing segments.
“Balak namin gumalaw na para maprotektahan namin ang aming overall lead at mabigyan ng pagkakataon si Rendole na habulin si Ravina,” said Guillarte, who is also counting on skipper Joel Calderon, another climbing specialist and runner-up in last year’s edition, to prop them up.
And while the 175-meter Category 4 ascent at the 51.6-km mark after the Dainag steel bridge won’t seem like a daunting challenge, looming ahead of them is pretty steep and snaking “Tatlong M” inside the Quezon National Park inside Atimonan.
The accident-prone and treacherous Category 4 climb 176.7 kilometers into the course is considered a “make-or-break” test for the riders, said Roadbike Phils. team manager Bong Sual.
“Talagang make-or-break ang stage na ito. At siyempre, gagalaw na rin kami,” said the bespectacled Sual. “Lahat ng mga riders ko, tutulong para protektuhan si Baler.”
Aside from Ravina, he added that he is keen on skipper Mark Galedo, another uphill expert, helping Ravina while also rising from his current ninth place in the standings.
This stage is where the Navy-Standard Insurance 1-2 punch of defending champion Santy Barnachea and Lloyd Lucien Reynante could also figure prominently.
Barnachea, who has kept a low profile in the previous stages, is at No. 13 (27:37.15) and 5:27 down from Ravina while Reynante, considered one of the shrewdest riders in this event, is just one rung lower (27:36.04).
“Although this is not the longest, this is the toughest of all the legs,” noted race director Rick Rodriguez. “Indeed, Stage 7 is make-or-break for everyone still competing in this event.”
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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