Irish Valenzuela rules 4th stage, moves to No. 4
CALAPAN CITY—Exploding in the final 800 meters to the hilltop finish line, Irish Valenzuela, officially Team 7-11’s No. 2 rider, wound up first in the fourth stage of the LBC Ronda Pilipinas Friday.
Valenzuela launched a furious assault to steal the stage victory from Bicolandia’s Alvin Benosa, who suffered a flat tire just as he geared up for the uphill finale, in the 93.7-kilometer stage and clock two hours, four minutes and 35.2 seconds.
It was the second straight stage that 7-11 ruled after top rider Lloyd Reynante took Stage 3 last Wednesday—with Valenzuela finishing second.
“I knew there was a climb near the finish line so when I saw the opening, I grabbed it,” said the 24-year-old Valenzuela in Filipino. He is this year’s Tour of Camsur champ and is a renowned climber with a Manila-Baguio stage win (2008) under his belt.
Born in Tabaco, Albay, but raised in Kamias, Quezon City, Valenzuela pocketed the P50,000 prize and also the King of the Mountain plum. But more importantly, his win catapulted him to fourth place overall from seventh, just two minutes and seven seconds off general classification leader Joel Calderon of Nueva Ecija.
Calderon feebly held on to the red jersey, holding a 34-second lead over George Oconer of Philippines Under-23, who finished eighth in the stage—5:22 after Valenzuela. Rudy Roque of American Vinyl/LPGMA remained at third (1:11 behind) despite checking in at 23rd, 5:35 after the stage winner.
A dejected Benosa, who was with the lead pack most of the way, quickly went to the shade looking at his flat rear tire. “Good thing I was ahead otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish in the podium,” said Benosa who said he has lost four stages because of flat tires in the homestretch. Still, Benosa barged into the top 10 overall, now at seventh 4:15 behind Calderon.
There was confusion at the end of the stage as the lead pack skipped a turn in the busy downtown after they missed a sign covered by a parked truck. That forced the organizers to make adjustment to the times and called on the riders to go back for a “formal finish.”
Calderon seemed resigned to surrender the lead after Friday’s tough test.
“Is it still me?” said a surprised Calderon, who finished 31st, 5:38 off the stage winner. “It was a very short but very hard route. I guess from now on I have to work harder and get my teammates’ help.”
Calderon was referring to the steep, elbow climbs and equally sharp turns downhill before the roundabout near Puerto Galera that almost doomed the campaign of Southern Tagalog’s Alexie Camerino, who suffered bruises and cuts after taking a spill. Camerino still finished the race.
There was hardly a shakeup in the overall list though the time difference became narrower. Two-time champ and second stage runner-up Santy Barnachea of East Pangasinan was still in the top five, 2:34 off the pace. Another former champion, Arnel Quirimit of C&W Pangasinan, is in sixth (3:02 behind), Benosa seventh, Cris Joven of American Vinyl/LPGMA eighth (4:53), Jay-Bop Pagnanawon of Cebu ninth (5:24), and two-time champ Warren Davadilla of National Capital Region 10th (6:30).
“I’m always eyeing him, waiting for him (Calderon) to get groggy,” said the 19-year-old Oconer, who was included in the group that took a wrong turn. “But he’s very tough and his teammates are always with him.”
Oconer, who is hoping to compete in the Southeast Asian Games in November, added: “It’s only 34 seconds but I’m not going to rush it.” Aside from Calderon, he said he also has to worry about the 20-year-old Roque, who is only seconds behind him.
In the team race, American Vinyl is lording it over with an aggregate time of 49:19:28. Team 7-11 is at second place (49:28:38), while Nueva Ecija is third (49:34:00).
C&W Pangasinan’s Renato Sambran wound up third in the stage, sharing the same time as Valenzuela and Benosa. Philippine Under-23’s John Renne Mier was fourth (2.9 seconds off), Tarlac’s Merculio Ramos fifth and East Pangasinan’s Baler Ravina sixth with the same clocking. March Aleonar of Butuan checked in 7th (13.8 seconds off), Oconer 8th, fellow PH Under-23 rider Gerald Mendoza (5:26) 9th, and Davadilla 10th with the same time.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.