Navy ace Morales protects Ronda victory
ILOILO CITY—Jan Paul Morales, sheltered by his Navy-Standard Insurance teammates on Friday’s penultimate stage, looks all but guaranteed to win the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2017.
Sprinting out of the main pack early, Morales simply rode with the lead group for much of the 209-kilometer ride without losing time to his chief rivals.
The 31-year-old national track racer arrived eighth in the 13th stage won by Mark Julius Bordeos in a wild bunch sprint finish but retained the overall red jersey with one race left in the 14-leg bikathon.
Morales cleverly steered clear from a risky crash on the high-velocity pursuit, avoided unwanted mechanical problems and weathered several attacks from contenders Cris Joven of Kinetix Lab-Army and Leonel Dimaano of RC Cola-NCR.
“Now, it’s safe to say that I’ve won the race,” said Morales in Filipino. He is seeking to formally become the first back-to-back, two-time champion of local cycling’s showcase event.
Saturday’s final stage on the thoroughfares of Iloilo’s booming financial district is a flat 50-km ride and all Morales has to do is cross the line to pocket the P1-million champion’s purse.
“My next target is the Southeast Asian Games (in Kuala Lumpur in August),” said Morales, whose wife Lenny is two months pregnant with their third child. “Hopefully, I can race for the national team.”
Bordeos clocked five hours and 19:01 minutes along with second placer Ronald Lomotos of Navy and Joven, who checked in third on the ride to Antique from this city and back.
At several points during the stage, Morales came under attack from Joven and Dimaano, particularly on a late moderate climb in Hamtic town, but both failed to make up any ground.
Aside from capturing the individual general classification title, Morales is also on course to bag the sprint king and king of the mountain side events, a rare feat in the fabled Tour.
Rudy Roque of Navy stayed in second, 13:09 behind, after floating with the peloton to keep other pursuers of the red jersey in check and Joven remained third, 16:10 back, in the race sponsored by LBC, MVP Sports Foundation, Mitsubishi and Petron.
“We just supported him (Morales) and made sure that our team stayed in front,” said Roque.
Navy-Standard Insurance is also assured of the team GC crown for the third consecutive year while Navy’s Daniel Ven Carino is a cinch for the best young rider award.
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