BAGUIO CITY—Falling short in his previous attempt by a mere 33 seconds, Irish Valenzuela yesterday formalized his enthronement in the pantheon of Filipino cycling heroes.
The LPGMA-American Vinyl team skipper set aside the disappointment of a runner-up finish last year to finally stand tallest on the podium as champion of the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas.
Valenzuela affirmed his status as the country’s fiercest mountain demon with an overpowering performance in Thursday’s individual time trial, for all intents and purposes the last competitive leg of the 16-stage bikathon.
After blowing his chief rivals apart in the race against the clock, Valenzuela tabbed his maiden Tour victory by finishing just behind the peloton in yesterday’s final stage—a 67.5-kilometer criterium in the city’s main thoroughfares.
“I still can’t believe it,” said the 25-year-old rider from Tabaco City, Albay, in Filipino. “Our team got depleted by sicknesses and injuries but I still managed to pull through.”
Track specialist Jan Paul Morales of Philippine Navy capped local cycling’s most gruelling bikathon with a Stage 16 victory, drawing the curtains on the third Ronda edition that was flagged off in the Zamboanga Peninsula, cut across Cebu, reached the northern tip of Luzon and ended in this nippy City of Pines.
Morales clinched his second stage victory of the Tour in one hour, 43 minutes and 47 seconds.
Jerry Aquino Jr. placed second with his Road Bike Philippines teammate Ronnel Hualda grabbing third.
Valenzuela was cheered lustily by a massive Burnham Park crowd who came over to witness his coronation and celebrate the start of the Panagbenga Festival.
The Bicolano ace—Ronda’s King of the Mountain in 2010 and 2011 who also counts victories in the 2008 Manila-to-Baguio race and 2010 Tour of Camsur— pocketed a cool P1 million for his victory.
“This is a dream come true,” said Valenzuela, the first Tour winner from Bicol since 1995, the year LPGMA coach Renato Dolosa of Gubat, Sorsogon, tabbed his second Tour triumph. “Thank you for the support of all who believed in me.”
For his performance, Valenzuela earned a scholarship from Liquigaz, a top Tour de France team. LPGMA owner Arnel Ty said that Valenzuela would train with Liquigaz’s Pool B riders in Europe for three months early next year.
“The race there is faster and the riders stronger,” said Valenzuela, who lost the title last year to Road Bike’s Mark Galedo by 33 seconds. “It’s a big break for me.”
Valenzuela compiled a total clocking of 55:18:52—1 minute and 57 seconds clear of second placer Ronald Gorantes of Road Bike and 2:08 ahead of PLDT/Spyder’s Ronald Oranza, the 20-year-old rider from Villasis, Pangasinan who held the red jersey of leadership for five stages before Valenzuela snatched it in the ITT.
Santy Barnachea of Navy wound up third, 4:28 behind Valenzuela, PLDT’s El Joshua Cariño was fifth (7:33), and Galedo, last year’s champion, was sixth (14:40). They were followed by Navarra (18:19 behind), V-Mobile’s Joel Calderon (20:48), LPGMA’s Cris Joven (20:57) and George Oconer of Navy (24:35).
Gorantes pocketed P500,000 while Oranza, the Tour’s best young rider, pocketed P250,000 in the 23-day race, which plans to go international next year, according to Fernando Araneta, the president of chief Tour sponsor LBC Express.
Team Mindanao’s Junrey Navarra, the winner of the most punishing leg of the Ronda from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, to this city, was crowned the new KOM. Hualda was named Sprint King.
In the team race, Road Bike Philippines of engineer Bong Sual seized the title and the P1-million prize over Philippine Navy (1:59 behind) and PLDT/Spyder (2:55).
Stage individual classification: 1. Morales, J. P. (PNS) 1:43:47, 2. Aquino Jr., J. (RPR) same time, 3. Hualda, R. (RPR) same time, 4. Bonzo, M. J. (PDT) same time, 5. Reynante, L. (PNS) same time, 6. Ramos, M. (TTC) same time, 7. Oconer, G. (PNS) same time, 8. Aleonar, M. (TMC) same time, 9. Pablo, F. (HIP) same time, 10. Oranza, R. (PDT) same time, 11. Callorina, J. (TEN) same time, 12. Pagnanawon, J. (YFM) same time, 13. Oledan, T. (TMC) same time, 14. Millanes, J. (TTC) same time, 15. Catalan, A. (RPR) same time, 16. Joven, C. (AVL) same time, 17. Mangahis, N. (TMM) same time, 18. Lim, R. (PDT) same time, 19. Atilano, E. (YFM) same time, 20. Cayubit, B. (TMM) same time
Overall individual classification (11th to 20th): 11. Reynante, L. (PNS) 25:35, 12. Gorantes, R. (PNS) 27:09, 13. Asto, D. (PNS) 28:01, 14. Ravina, J. (RPR) 28:17, 15. Atilano, E. (YFM) 31:17, 16. Lim, R. (PDT) 35:01, 17. Millanes, J. (TTC) 39:29, 18. Ramos, M. (TTC) 40:27, 19. Martinez, T. (TTC) 41:54, 20. Navarro, R. (HIP) 43:44