SURIGAO CITY – Among his cycling peers, there was never any doubt that national track standout and Navyman Jan Paul Morales is a sprinter par excellence.
On a sunny Sunday, Morales proved it, cannily negotiating to the front of a 66-man main pack to capture the short fourth stage of the 2nd LBC Ronda Pilipinas as sprinters ruled the day in the 118-kilometer run to this beautiful seaport city and provincial capital of Surigao del Norte.
Under the banner of Navy-Standard Insurance, Morales edged Road Bike Phils.’ Ericson Obosa and prologue winner Orlie Villanueva of V-Mobile, also sprint specialists, to clinch the flat yet bumpy trip in three hours, one minute and 51 seconds.
Obosa and Villanueva checked in second and third, respectively, with the peloton, overtaking the four-man lead group of Alfie Catalan, Emil Pablo, Ronel Hualda and Sherwin Diamsay with four kilometers left to the finish line in front of the Surigao City hall.
“Tinarget ko talagang manalo ito dahil ‘di gaanong kahabaan at mapatag ang course,” said the 26-year-old Seaman Second Class, who won two bronze medals in the 10-km. scratch and 4,000-meter team pursuit in last year’s Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia. He picked up P50,000 in his first ever stage victory.
“Balak ko rin sanang makuha yong lap kaya lang naunahan ako ni Jan Paul,” said Obosa, who won the 7-Eleven Tour 700 two weeks ago, as he settled for runner-up honors, worth P25,000.
Villanueva collected P15,000 for placing third in the stage of the multi-stop cycling marathon presented by LBC and supported by Total, Rudy Project, MVP Sports Foundation and IcomIdas.
After securing the tiring 227-km. third stage the previous day to sweep into the overall lead, Road Bike Phils.’ Baler Ravina was content to check in with the big wave of cyclists to retain the LBC red jersey with a cumulative time of 17:22.24.
The newly-crowned Le Tour Pilipinas champion maintained a 30-second gap over V-Mobile’s Oscar Rindole (17:25.44) and 49 seconds up on third-placer American Vinyl-LPGMA’s Cris Joven (17:23.13) while the top 10 individual overall standings remained unchanged following yesterday’s leg.
The same was also true of the overall team classification with V-Mobile (51:16.49), Mindanao (51:17.56) and Roadbike Phils (51:19.03) keeping their 1-2-3 spots in the quest for the P1-million kitty up for grabs for the team champion.
Though most of the course was flat, the riders had some tricky moments as they had to negotiate through several road works along the race to Surigao City.
Nine cyclists broke away from the main pack at the 66.5-km point, a King-of-the-Mountain portion, won by AMV-LPGMA’s Ronnel Hualda, who was in the bunch that included veteran Alfie Catalan, Joseph Millanes, Lito Atilano, Riemon Lapaza, Julius Mark Bonzo, Emil Pablo and Sherwin Diamsay.
As they neared the homestretch Catalan, Hualda, Pablo and Diamsay surged ahead with four kilometers remaining, but with the peloton fast catching up and bearing down on them.
Catalan and company were finally overtaken a kilometer later, turning the final 500 meters into a terrific race-to-finish among the troika of Morales, Obosa and Villanueva, in the last leg of the Mindanao stop of the nationwide cycling series.
After four straight days of racing, the riders take a much-needed breather on Monday as they take a day off while they jump to the Visayas, crossing by ship to the island of Leyte for their next challenge, a 146.-km. trip from Ormoc City to the provincial capital of Tacloban City on Tuesday.
They will take a two-hour ferryboat to the port of Liloan then drive by convoy to Ormoc City for their rest and recreation before resuming their cycling battles the succeeding day.
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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