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Oranza now only 12 seconds up

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RONNEL Hualda celebrates his Stage 11 win. Wilfred Ladanga/contributor

APARRI, Cagayan—Ronald Oranza of PLDT/Spyder survived a rally by Santy Barnachea of Philippine Navy to keep the overall lead yesterday after a methodical high-velocity race in Stage 11 of the Ronda Pilipinas won by Ronnel Hualda of Road Bike Philippines.

Hualda, a noted sprinter, secured his second career lap victory by beating Jan Paul Morales of Philippine Navy and Cris Joven of LPGMA-American Vinyl in a mad dash to the payoff line, clocking  four hours, seven minutes and 12 seconds for the mostly flat 171.4-kilometer trip from Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

Morales placed second over Joven, who nailed another podium finish, with Barnachea, the three-time Tour champion, arriving fifth, four seconds behind the lap winner, and moved up to second overall a mere 12 seconds behind Oranza.

The 20-year-old Oranza, who will be in red for another day, later acknowledged  feeling the intense pressure of wearing the symbolic jersey of leadership for the first time in his career.

“Here it is. You can take it,” Oranza jokingly told a rider from another team in Filipino after coming home exhausted from chasing the lead group of Barnachea for over 100 kilometers.

Mark Julius Bonzo, Oranza’s teammate who captured Stage 9 from Mangaldan, Pangasinan to Vigan City, also offered to return the jersey to former Irish Valenzuela, who graciously declined.

“Now, they know how it feels to have the red jersey,” said the LPGMA-American Vinyl skipper, who held the lead for five stages before losing it to Oranza in the team time trial Friday.  ”As for getting it back, I’ll just wait when the opportunity comes.”

Overall, Valenzuela fell to third after floating with the peloton that included most of the contenders, 55 seconds behind Oranza.

Road Bike’s Ronald Gorantes remained fourth (1:28 behind), PLDT’s El Joshua Cariño fifth (5:38), Joven sixth (5:52), defending champion Mark Galedo seventh (13:37), Joel Calderon of V-Mobile/Smart eighth (14:12), Tarlac’s Tomas Martinez ninth (14:37) and Navy’s George Oconer 10th  (14:56).

Rain greeted the peloton at the Patapat viaduct going to the Ilocos Norte provincial border and when the downpour stopped Barnachea and Joven spearheaded a five-man breakaway approaching Pamplona, Cagayan.

Oranza’s PLDT/Spyder group,  a bunch of under-23 riders bankrolled by LBC Express president Fernando Araneta, reacted a little bit late and Barnachea and his partners pulled ahead by as much as two minutes in  the next 90 km.

Taking turns to set a torrid pace,  Oranza, Cariño and Bonzo managed to bring the  peloton to less than a minute off Barnachea and the breakaway pack, which also included sprinter Joseph Millanes of Tarlac, in the end.

“It was tiring,” said Barnachea, the 2011 Ronda champion.  “The plan was to cut down a few seconds in this stage and we’re able to do it. There’s still time to get the red jersey, we just have to be patient.”

PLDT/Spyder reclaimed the team overall lead with a 37-second advantage over Philippine Navy while Road Bike stayed third, 5:29 back, going into today’s flat trip of 101.3 kilometers to Tuguegarao City.


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