92 riders brace for hilly stages

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LAPU-LAPU CITY, Cebu—After hurdling a couple of tricky climbs in Mindanao, the 92 surviving riders of the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas will encounter more punishment in two hilly stages here in the Visayas.

Tomorrow’s Stage 4 is a 134.2-kilometer massed start race that will start and end at the Plaza Independencia in Cebu City.

It features a pair of category 4 climbs 36 km after flag-off and a steeper ascent after the second intermediate sprint in Toledo town going to the finish.

But the cyclists and their teams are more concerned about the layout of Stage 5 on Thursday, another massed start trip of 156.8 km, which ends in a long agonizing uphill trek atop the Mountain View Natures Park in Busay, Cebu.

Overall leader Santy Barnachea of Philippine Navy has never tested the course as well as title aspirants Irish Valenzuela and Rudy Roque of LPGMA-American Vinyl, Tarlac’s Tomas Martinez, Joel Calderon of Smart, Lloyd Reynante of Navy and defending champion Mark Galedo of Road Bike.

“I’ve never been there. The most that I can do is to watch out for opponents who might attack in this critical stage,” said Barnachea, the three-time Tour champion who captured the first Ronda crown in 2011.

The 36-year-old brainy rider from Umingan, Pangasinan, holds a two-minute advantage over Martinez and is 2:54 ahead of Roque, who claimed Stage 3, the final lap in Mindanao that ended in Iligan City.

Ronald Gorantes of Road Bike was fourth overall, three minutes off Barnachea, Valenzuela was fifth (3:01 behind), Calderon sixth (3:09), Navy’s George Oconer seventh (3:16), Smart’s Marcelo Felipe eighth (3:19), LPGMA’s Cris Joven ninth (3:35) and Reynaldo Navarro 10th (3:38).

Galedo, who bagged the P1-million individual champion’s purse last year, was 17th overall, 5:03 back.

“There will be changes (in the standings) after this (Stage 5),” said Ronda race director Ric Rodriguez.

Erick Feliciano, a former Tour competitor who trained in Busay for the mountain bike competitions of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games, described the terrain as smaller than the mountains of Baguio City but steeper.

The 23-day, 16-stage bikathon took a two-day break yesterday and today.

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