IPIL, Zamboanga Sibugay—On the twilight of his career, Ericson Obosa now concentrates on compiling as many stage victories as possible.
The sprint specialist from Road Bike Philippines was up to his goal as he seized the opening stage of the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas yesterday, nosing out Cris Joven of LPGMA-American Vinyl by a wheel in a mad dash by the five-man lead pack to the finish.
“This is my last Tour. I might as well make the most out of it by trying to win as many stages as I could,” said Obosa in Filipino after clocking three hours, seven minutes and eight seconds in the mostly flat 132.2-kilometer ride from Zamboanga City.
Santy Barnachea, the 2011 champion, checked in third followed by young riders Vicente Vicmar and Marvin Tapic.
“I have to gain as much on the other contenders before we hit the mountains,” said the 36-year-old Barnachea, the only three-time Tour champion since the revival of the bikathon several years back.
Chief contenders Mark Galedo of Road Bike, Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA and Lloyd Reynante of Philippine Navy conveniently settled in the peloton throughout the trip and let the sprinters dominate the action on the flat and winding route on the fringes of Busan Bay.
Obosa, who also clinched Stage 1 victories in the 2006 and 2007 Tours, has a standing offer to become Road Bike’s trainer and mechanic in the team’s succeeding races.
“I’ve decided to take it. As for this race, I will be in contention on every flat stage,” said the veteran rider from Manaog, Pangasinan.
Joven towed the lead pack in the final 300 meters but came up short as cramps hit the LPGMA co-captain near the line.
Despite failing to pocket the P50,000 stage winner’s purse, the versatile rider from Iriga City led the 96-rider field in a pair of sprints and the king of the mountain challenge right after the provincial border with 28 km to go.
“I had difficulty breathing and I got hit by cramps. At least, I’m out there in front early,” said Joven, who placed fifth overall in the Ronda last year.
Valenzuela arrived 3:19 behind Obosa while Galedo and Reynante came in with a large group, 3:36 back.
“It’s too early to make an attack. We have to save energy for the tougher climbs ahead,” said Galedo, the defending individual titlist who beat Valenzuela by 33 seconds last year.
Reynante, who finished third overall last year, has yet to clinch an individual crown and came in motivated to finally bring home the elusive prize that the outspoken climber has been craving for the past 10 years.
Lloyd’s father, legendary cyclist Maui Reynante, died of heart failure when he accompanied his son during the qualifying race in October last year.
Rey Martin and Oscar Rindole of Smart/V-Mobile checked in seven seconds after the lap winner along with Tarlac’s Tomas Martinez. Sherwin Diamsay of Tarlac and Jemico Brioso of PLDT/Spyder finished 2:09 back.
Today’s second stage, a 139.5-km leg going to Pagadian City, takes the riders on a bumpy ride through a pair of hills near the finish.