TUGUEGARAO CITY—Jan Paul Morales was up to the challenge reserved for sprinters.
The track specialist from the Philippine Navy snatched victory in a mass sprint finish in yesterday’s Stage 12 of the Ronda Pilipinas even as Ronald Oranza of PLDT/Spyder saw his overall lead dwindle to just three seconds over Navy skipper Santy Barnachea.
Morales, bronze medalist in the team pursuit and scratch events of the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, was escorted by teammate Lloyd Reynante in the last few hundred meters before storming ahead of the pack for his third career stage win in two hours, 13 minutes and 34 seconds.
“Before the race, my coach told me that I should win this stage, and I did it with the help of the team,” said Morales, who is celebrating his 27th birthday today.
Navy race strategist Bernard Llentada, the 1991 Tour of the Philippines champion, admitted that the game plan was designed for Morales to pocket the P50,000 stage winner’s purse.
Morales turned the tables on Road Bike’s Ronnel Hualda, who placed second this time after ruling Saturday’s Stage 11 by beating Morales in a mad dash to the payoff line. Cebu’s Jaybob Pagnanawon finished third.
Surprising everybody by arriving last in the 81-rider field—28 seconds after the stage winner— Oranza saw his overall lead further shrink from 15 seconds at the start of the race.
“I got really exhausted in yesterday’s race,” said Oranza in Filipino. “I promise to do better tomorrow (today).”
Oranza and his teammates chased Barnachea and the breakaway pack of five riders for over 100 kilometers in Cagayan Valley in Stage 11 on Thursday and arrived home tired and weary.
Barnachea again narrowed the gap after checking in 16 seconds after the stage winner in the middle of a big wave of cyclists following the largely flat 101.3 km trip from Aparri, Cagayan.
“I wasn’t expecting to wear red,” he said. “I just rode along with the peloton and finished the race together with my teammates.”
Overall, Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl stayed third but slashed several seconds off the lead. Trailing by 55 seconds when the day began, Valenzuela now stood 31 off Oranza.
The other contenders kept their places with Ronald Gorantes of Road Bike clinging to fourth overall (1:09 behind), PLDT’s El Joshua Carino fifth (5:19), LPGMA’s Cris Joven sixth (5:25) and defending champion Mark Galedo of Road Bike seventh (13:18).
V-Mobile’s Joel Calderon remained eighth, 13:48 behind the lead, Tarlac’s Tomas Martinez lay ninth (14:18), and Reynante was 10th, 14:34 back.
“Tomorrow (today) is the real start of the race. I will attack to gain more time,” said Valenzuela, who placed second overall to Galedo in the previous Ronda.
Today’s bumpy 204.4 km trip to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, is the longest stage in the 16-leg bikathon.
The Ronda takes a break tomorrow in preparation for the stage from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, to Baguio City (133.5 km) on Wednesday via the treacherous mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre and Cordilleras.
STAGE INDIVIDUAL CLASSIFICATION
1. JP. Morales (PNS) 2:13:34, 2. R. Hualda (RPR) same time, 3. J. Pagnanawon (YFM) same time, 4. T. Oledan (TMC) same time, 5. M. Bonzo (PDT) same time, 6. A. Catalan (RPR) same time, 7. E. Nicolas (AVL) same time, 8. O. Villanueva (VMS) same time, 9. J. Aquino Jr. (RPR) same time, 10. E. Quinones (PNS) same time, 11. V. Vicmar (TMC), 12. L. Reynante (PNS) same time, 13. M. Felipe (VMS) same time, 14. B. Cayubit (TMM) 0:04, 15. R. Tugawin (TEN) same time, 16. M. Pili (TMM) same time, 17. M. Ramos (TTC) same time, 18. C. Joven (AVL) same time, 19. F. Ramos (TTC) same time, 20. N. Guanzon (VMS) same time.
OVERALL INDIVIDUAL CLASSIFICATION
11. G. Oconer (PNS) 14:37, 12. M. Ramos (TTC) 16:20, 13. Re. Gorantes (PNS) 16:36, 14. J. Millanes (TTC) 16:55, 15. D. Asto (PNS) 17:09, 16. D. Cagas (PNS) 17:46, 17. H. Sicam (RPR) 18:23, 18. J. Ravina (RPR) 19:24, 19. E. Atilano (YFM) 20:30, 20. J. Navarro (TMC) 24:04. (See top 10 below)