Morales seals win in style
ILOILO CITY—All the doubts on Jan Paul Morales’ ability to win a long and grueling race were put to rest Saturday 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 the 14th and final stage that he won after nosing out his closest rival in a bunch sprint finish.
The 31-year-old rider from Calumpang, Marikina, put the coveted crimson red jersey to work one last time yesterday, transforming what should have been a mere ceremonial victory parade into a fitting highlight 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 at 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.
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 Visayas city.
Ronda executives used a three-leg format last year with a separate champion each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The races were mostly criterium in format and 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, came to the race as the favorite but knew all too well that anything could happen in more than 1,700 kilometers of racing over three weeks.
His victory was all the more remarkable because besides taking the individual title 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 want 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 Navymen captured the team crown for the third consecutive time by controlling the race from the kick-off stage in Vigan. They also put Daniel 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 in playing second fiddle to his more talented teammate, finished second overall in the individual race while 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.
“I hope that more riders can join next year. It will be good for the race and cycling in general,” said Morales. Navy-Standard Insurance bagged a total prize of P1.8 million.
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