Morales tops ninth stage, nears Ronda crown
SANTA ROSA, LAGUNA— Turned out that Jan Paul Morales is Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance’s “anointed one” all along.
The Navy scrambled five riders to make sure the defending champion captured Sunday’s ninth stage and held on to the overall leadership of LBC Ronda Pilipinas at the upscale Paseo de Santa Rosa grounds here.
Six Navy riders, who have been playing “mind games” the past stages, finished in the top 10 in the 50-kilometer criterium stage, revealing their cards for the first time in nine stages.
The 31-year-old Morales even bucked diarrhea to brush off the threat of Go for Gold’s Ronnel Hualda who kept him company in the final four laps.
Navy team captain Lloyd Lucien Reynante towed the main pack before taking third place in the stage, 28 seconds after Morales and Hualda.
“Our concern now is just the Iloilo stages,” said Morales who darted to the finish line to win the stage in one hour, five minutes and 58 seconds, beating Hualda via a bike-length gap.
“Maybe the training we underwent is paying off now,” said Morales in nailing his fourth victory in the 14-stage race.
He now leads the overall classification, more than two minutes ahead of teammate Rudy Roque. At third place is another Navy rider Ronald Lomotos who is 4:58 off Morales.
“We can say that he (Morales) has 80 percent chance of going all the way,” said Hualda, a veteran tour campaigner known for his sprinting skills. “It’s going to be difficult because the second and third placers are also theirs.”
Morales said he took extra doses of diatabs and liters of “hydrite” before the race because he ate something odd the previous day and suffered loose bowel movement all day Saturday.
He has won Stages 2, 3 and 6. “There are a lot of other riders who can climb so we have to watch out for them,” said Morales.
The overall standings didn’t change as chasers Jonel Carcueva of Go for Gold and Cris Joven of Kinetix Lab-Army, fourth and fifth placers, respectively, could not make a decisive move in the short and flat stage that hardly broke the peloton.
Finishing with the same time as Reynante were Roque and Archie Cardana of Navy, Go For Gold’s Orlie Villanueva, Navy’s Daniel Ven Carino and Lomotos, Bike Extreme’s Jaybop Pagnanawon and Joven, in that order.