BAGUIO CITY—Irish Valenzuela ruled the punishing individual time trial in yesterday’s Stage 15 and all but seized the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas individual title by opening a huge lead going into the concluding leg here today.
The LPGMA-American Vinyl ace, last year’s runner-up, again flashed overpowering form in the mountains, clocking one hour, 23 minutes and 18 seconds in the race against the clock that covered 34 kilometers of ascending terrain from Pugo, La Union, to Burnham Park here.
The 25-year-old from Tabaco City, Albay, finished a minute ahead of defending champion Mark Galedo with Valenzuela’s Road Bike teammate Ronald Gorantes coming home third, 1:30 back, as the top 10 standings took a massive overhaul that is expected to hold after the final stage.
From third overall, Valenzuela swept to the top by 2 minutes 14 seconds over Gorantes with erstwhile pacesetter Ronald Oranza of PLDT/Spyder shrugging off the pain in his badly bruised legs after a crash in Wednesday’s Stage 14, falling to third overall, 2:42 back.
Oranza, a 20-year-old bike mechanic from Villasis, Pangasinan, who wrested the red jersey of leadership from Valenzuela after Stage 10, finished sixth this time, 3:05 off Valenzuela.
Santy Barnachea, the pride of Umingan town in the same province who started the day second overall, finished even worse—ninth place for the day, 4:10 back. The three-time champion dropped two places to fourth overall, 4:50 behind.
An emotional Valenzuela kissed his parents Francia and Kiko at the finish line and hugged teammate Cris Joven as the duo unabashedly broke down in tears.
“I was frustrated for not winning the Ronda last year and waited to redeem myself,” said Valenzuela in Filipino.
“I don’t want to wait again another year, and with the help of Cris, our coach and those who believed in us, I finally did it,” added Valenzuela, a former time trial specialist in the national team.
After losing the individual crown to Galedo by 33 seconds last year, Valenzuela is now a cinch for the P1-million champion’s purse with today’s 67.5 km Baguio criterium expected to pose no problem for the mountain specialist.
Barnachea was penalized one minute for drafting. Tour officials said he had tried to help Oranza cut down Valenzuela’s growing lead along the ascent.
Overall, PLDT’s El Joshua Carino remained fifth (7:58 behind), Galedo moved a notch up to sixth (15:02) followed by Cycle Line’s Junrey Navarra at seventh (18:41) and V-Mobile’s Joel Calderon at eighth (21:10).
The 78 surviving riders set off yesterday in reverse order of the standings on three-minute intervals.
By the first intermediate time check at the 17 km mark, Valenzuela had already erased the 33-second lead of Oranza. The stage winner eventually stormed past eight riders released ahead of him.
Road Bike seized the overall lead and closed in on the P1-million team prize.
Overall individual classification (Rest of the Top 20): 11. Reynante, Lloyd (PNS) 26:06, 12. Gorantes, Reinhard (PNS) 27:34, 13. Asto, Daniel (PNS) 28:06, 14. Ravina, Jonipher (RPR) 28:36, 15. Atilano, Emelito (YFM) 31:48, 16. Lim, Rustom (PDT) 35:32, 17. Millanes, Joseph (TTC) 40:00, 18. Ramos, Merculio (TTC) 40:58, 19. Martinez, Tomas (TTC) 42:16, 20. Navarro, Reynaldo (HIP) 44:06