Barnachea seizes big lead; Martinez shines
BAGUIO CITY—Santy Barnachea became overly excited at the sight of the steep, ascending terrain. His opponents found out quickly why.
The two-time Tour champion surprised his key rivals with a brazen attack on the flatlands just 30 kilometers into the lap and then let it all loose throughout the famed Naguilian Road to grab the overall lead in Thursday’s Stage 9 of the 2011 LBC Ronda Pilipinas.
Barnachea checked in fourth in the rain-battered 181.4-km uphill route from Vigan City, two minutes and 47 seconds behind Tomas Martinez of Tarlac, who seized his third career stage victory in four hours, 54 minutes and 31 seconds.
“I waited long for this stage to retrieve the overall leadership,” said the 35-year-old Barnachea, who wore the leader’s red jersey in Stage 3 before yielding it to Nueva Ecija’s Joel Calderon.
“I made my move early and got really excited as soon as I saw the mountains. I pushed it up when (I saw) nobody from the contenders was in my group,” added the 2006 Tour champion and winner of the four-stage Calabarzon race in 2002.
Calderon, whose six-day run in red ended after he finished 16:27 behind the lap winner, dropped to third overall, 10:25 behind Barnachea even Cycleline Extreme’s March Aleonar, 14th overall before the stage, moved up to second, 7:14 back.
PhilCycling’s George Oconer, sitting on Calderon’s wheel throughout the race, dropped to fourth from second, 10:42 off the pace.
“I feel that 80 percent of this Tour is already mine. I have a big lead going into tomorrow’s (Friday) stage. My strategy is to keep up with all possible attackers,” said Barnachea.
The day’s biggest casualty was Irish Valenzuela of Albay, who bombed out of the top 10 after crossing the finish 32 minutes behind Martinez. From third, Valenzuela plunged to 23rd, 27:55 behind.
Daniel Asto made it a 1-2 finish for the day for Tarlac, crossing the line 2:26 later despite suffering a flat tire in the last two kilometers.
Asto wheeled his damaged rear tire to the finish 19 seconds ahead of Aleonar before Barnachea, American Vinyl’s Bryant Sepnio and Cebu’s Albert Basirgo came charging home under a slight drizzle and poor visibility caused by a thick mountaintop fog.
American Vinyl appeared to have clinched the general team classification crown after widening the distance from its closest competitors for the P1-million champion team’s purse.
Four American Vinyl riders finished in the stage’s top 20—Sepnio, Edmundo Nicolas, Joseph Millanes and Cris Joven, giving their team an advantage of 19:07 over Tarlac and 24:41 over 7-Eleven before Friday’s last punishing race to the mountains.
Riders will take off in Agoo, La Union, in a massed start race and negotiate 46.4 kilometers of progressive elevation via Marcos Highway on the way to Burnham Park.
“There’s no reason to celebrate. The race isn’t done yet,” said American Vinyl coach Rene Dolosa in Filipino.
Barnachea joined a 21-man breakaway group at the foothills of Baguio after storming away from the contenders’ pack in San Esteban town, Ilocos Sur, barely 30 km into the race.