SUBIC Freeport—With the mountains looming ahead, Irish Valenzuela just couldn’t resist the temptation to reach the summit first.
The LPGMA-American Vinyl team captain survived a minor crash and topped a pair of King of the Mountain challenges to strengthen his grip on the overall lead after yesterday’s eventful Stage 7 of the Ronda Pilipinas won by Ronald Oranza of PLDT/Spyder.
Oranza clinched his first career stage victory and third podium finish this year in four hours, 21 minutes and 57 seconds after narrowly beating LPGMA’s Cris Joven and Ronald Gorantes of Road Bike at the end of the 180.5-kilometer ride from Tarlac City.
Joven and Gorantes posted the same time as the 20-year-old Oranza in the stage that precedes a chain of relatively flat stages across Pangasinan, the Ilocos provinces and Cagayan.
Three-time champion Santy Barnachea came home fourth, three seconds off Oranza, while Valenzuela, Ronda’s back-to-back KOM crown holder, was another second back and kept the red jersey for the third straight stage.
Oranza climbed from third to second overall, 1 minute 36 seconds behind Valenzuela, after PLDT’s El Joshua Carino suffered a blowout early and dropped to sixth, 8:41 back.
Valenzuela fell into a ditch on the same rough patch where Carino took a flat, 50 km from the start in San Fernando City, Pampanga.
Joven, last year’s Sprint King, jumped from fifth to third (4:30 off Valenzuela), Gorantes rose two places to fourth (4:43) and Barnachea improved a notch to fifth (5:15) followed by Joel Calderon at seventh (10:34), Marvin Tapic (14:16), defending champion Mark Galedo and Tarlac’s Tomas Martinez (16:34).
“I took advantage of the situation to gain more points in the KOM,” said Valenzuela, who paced the derby for the best climber with 30 points over Cebu’s Marvin Tapic (21).
The 25-year-old mountain specialist from Tabaco, Albay, could make history as the only rider in six years to achieve a KOM hat trick.
Right after the second of two climbs in Morong, Bataan, Valenzuela towed the lead pack that included Oranza, Joven, Gorantes and Barnachea over the next 17 km before letting the four contest lap honors near the finish.
Galedo of Road Bike moved up four rungs to ninth overall after checking in sixth in the stage, 2:15 off Oranza, but lost more time to Valenzuela, the man he beat for the title last year.
Galedo started the day 12:36 behind Valenzuela at 13th but is now 14:47 off the pace.
RONALD Oranza of PLDT/Spyder team punches the air in victory as he pips Cris Joven (center) and Ronald Gorantes for Stage 7 honors in Subic. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / WILFRED LADANGA