Morales quashes doubts with Ronda overall title
ILOILO CITY–Doubts were cast on the genuine ability of Jan Paul Morales to win a long and grueling race after event organizers tweaked the format last year.
With the traditional yet punishing multistage setup back on the road, all the skepticism were finally put to rest as the Navy-Standard Insurance ace emerged the finest among the elite in the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2017.
”All the hard work paid off,” said Morales in Filipino after Saturday’s 14th and final stage that he convincingly won in a bunch sprint finish.
The 31-year-old rider from Calumpang, Marikina put the coveted crimson red jersey to work one last time Saturday, transforming what could had been a mere ceremonial victory parade to a powerful showcase of his coronation as the first two-time, back-to-back winner of local cycling’s grand race.
Morales topped the 50-kilometer criterium finale on the thoroughfares of the Iloilo Business Park here in one hour, five minutes and eight seconds after beating main rival Cris Joven of Kinetix Lab-Army by a wheel in a mad dash to the line.
Jaybop Pagnanawon of Bike Extreme rounded up the podium for the day after a late crash involving three riders on the final straightaway.
”I dedicate this victory to my family, especially to my wife Lenny who is pregnant with our third child,” said Morales, who won five stages this year and wore the red shirt since the seventh stage in Daet, Camarines Norte.
He proudly waved the chequered flag as soon as he reached the line and was congratulated by fellow riders at the end of the race that began in Ilocos Sur, went to Subic and passed through the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions before winding up here in this booming city.
Ronda executives pushed for a three-leg format last year with a separate champion each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, most of them criterium races that veered away from the regular thrill of point-to-point mass start competitions.
Morales, who prevailed in two of those three legs for the overall crown, had come to the race as the favorite but knew all too well that anything can happen over more than 1,700 kilometers of racing over three weeks.
His victory was all the more remarkable because besides taking the individual GC and the P1-million champion’s purse that went with it, Morales also ruled the sprint and king of the mountain side events, a rare feat in the Tour.
”I hope to race for the national team in the coming SEA Games,” said Morales. ”But for now, I’ll rest and celebrate this win.”
Sweeping all titles available, the powerful Navymen captured the team GC for the third consecutive time by controlling the race since the kick-off stage in Vigan and put Ven Carino on the podium as best young rider.
This seventh edition of the Ronda will also be remembered as the swan song for Navy skipper Lloyd Lucien Reynante and 2009 Tour champ Joel Calderon, two of the most revered and colorful cyclists of their generation.
Navy’s Rudy Roque, satisfied by playing second fiddle to his more talented teammate, finished second overall in the GC and Joven was a far third followed by Bryant Sepnio of Go For Gold, Leonel Dimaano of RC Cola and Navy’s Ronald Lomotos, Carino and Reynante.
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