Oconer tops Ronda Pilipinas Stage 1
STA. ROSA, Laguna—George Oconer endured strong winds and the challenge posed by seasoned rivals to rule Stage 1 of the Ronda Pilipinas presented by LBC Sunday.
What was expected to be a cruise around the parking grounds inside the posh Greenfield City here turned out to be a hard one for the riders who braved the relentless winds that blew against the peloton throughout the 60-kilometer criterium.
“When you try to ride hard against it, it makes you groggy,” said the 23-year-old Oconer in Filipino after logging in one hour, 13 minutes and five seconds. He thus took the red jersey going into Stage 2 late yesterday from Calamba to Atimonan, Quezon.
Riding for PSC-National Team, Oconer engaged in a mad dash to the finish against 2011 champion Santy Banachea, who along with three others composed the lead pack going into the final eight laps.
But the son of Olympian Norberto Oconer, who in 2011 won the youth division and placed third overall, burst to the finish with his fresh legs to claim the maiden stage and the P15,000 prize.
Cris Joven of Army wound up second with 1:13:07 beating Rudy Roque of Navy Standard (1:13:09).
“It’s still too early, I will just try to hold on to it,” said Oconer. “Stage two will be a lot tougher for sure.”
The second stage was to feature major uphill finish and the fabled Tatlong Eme route, and was expected to rearrange the order of the general classification.
But Oconer, who is a national junior team member, has all the tools to stand his ground. His utility, teammate Rustom Lim finished fourth in the stage, eventually edging Barnachea.
The race zoomed past a huge park where kids strolled and played frisbee, enjoying the cool air and sunshine. But with the winds blowing in all directions, the riders were limited to speeds up to 22 kilometers per hour. They averaged 5:11 per lap which had a distance of 3.64 km.
“It’s okay because we get to guard each other, and the winds allowed us to stretch our lead,” said Oconer.
The chase group, indeed, made it more than two minutes later led by Navy’s John Paul Morales (1:15:39). Inside the second group was last year’s overall champion Reimon Lapaza.
It was Oconer’s first stage win since he took the rugged Solano-Tuguegarao stage in the 2013 edition. And it was obvious he relished the moment. With fist in the air, Oconer zipped through the finish line.
Most of the riders wore patches with number 44 on them in honor of the Special Action Force-policemen who died in Mamasapano. Edgar Nieto of Spain made the top 10.
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