Crucial LBC Ronda Baguio stages up
VIGAN CITY—After three days of high-speed pursuit on mostly flat, sinewy roads, comes a change of scenery in the 2011 LBC Ronda Pilipinas.
The Tour heads toward Baguio City for the first of two tortuous mountain stages that will decide the 12-leg bikathon, which flagged off in Mindanao and traversed tourist destinations in the Visayas and Southern Luzon.
Overall leader Joel Calderon and his closest pursuers for individual supremacy made it through the crash-free second week of the multistage race relatively unscathed while keeping each other’s company at every finish line.
That ploy won’t apply in Thursday’s Stage 9 when the Tour negotiates a punishing 181.4-kilometer ascent to the City of Pines via Naguilian Road, which is expected to separate the top-level contenders from lesser climbers and the rest of the pack.
“I’m in good condition. But I will have to watch out for the attacks,” said Calderon of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, after successfully protecting the red jersey through six days on less challenging terrain.
Calderon, 30, has a slim 14-second advantage over George Oconer of PhilCycling U23 and is 1:36 clear of 7-Eleven’s Irish Valenzuela.
American Vinyl’s Rudy Roque is 2:24 behind and Santy Barnachea of Eastern Pangasinan is 3:14 off the lead.
Also in the hunt for the P1-million individual general classification purse are Arnel Quirimit of W&C Pangasinan (5:42 behind), Bicolandia’s Alvin Benosa (6:14), Baler Ravina of Eastern Pangasinan (7:21), American Vinyl’s Cris Joven (7:37) and Warren Davadilla of NCR (7:44).
“No lead is safe in Baguio. You have to be blessed and, at the same time, lucky to win it,” said Calderon.
The real challenge for the 94 surviving riders begins at the welcome arc of Burgos town on Naguilian Road. From there, it will be 30.4 km of nonstop climb marked by countless narrow hairpin turns.
“If there’s an opportunity, I will go for it. But my father told me to be patient,” said the 19-year-old Oconer, son of 1992 Barcelona Olympian Norberto.
American Vinyl/LPGMA is looking for a big run to clinch the general team classification in the twin mountain stages after yesterday’s rest day with coach Rene Dolosa banking heavily on Roque, Joven, Ronnel Hualda and Joseph Millanes to carry the squad.