MALOLOS, Bulacan – Irish Valenzuela expects nothing short of a war as he tries to protect the overall lead of the Ronda Pilipinas when the race shifts from the Visayas to Luzon starting on Sunday.
Stage 6 of the three-week bikathon will be flagged off in front of the City Hall here and covers 128.3 kilometers all the way to the finish line at the Tarlac Central Market in Tarlac City.
And all eyes definitely are on the star rider of LPGMA-American Vinyl.
Valenzuela will wear the red jersey symbolic of overall leadership after he dislodged erstwhile leader Santy Barnachea from the top with a strong runner-up finish in Stage 5 on Friday in Lapu-Lapu Barangay Busay in Cebu.
The 26-year-old Valenzuela has amassed an aggregate time of 18 hours, 21 minutes, and 12 seconds to lead by more than a minute closest pursuers and lap five winner El Joshua Carino (18:22.48) of PLDT-Spyder and Ronald Oranza also of PLDT-Spyder (18:23.10).
“Bantay-bantay lang muna dahil sigurado ako na ang titignan nila,” said Valenzuela, a native of Tabaco, Albay who could only finish runner-up behind champion Mark Galedo of Roadbike Philippines last year.
“Sana makuha na this year, sana nga,” added the race leader, who didn’t fail to mention LPGMA and American Vinyl bosses Arnel and Eric Ty for their all-out support.
But expected to give Valenzuela a good chase are the 19-year-old Carino and 20-year-old Oranza, both of whom are members of the Under-23 national team trained by American Chris Allison.
Also in contention for the champion purse of P1 million are Joel Calderon of VMobile-Tarlac (18:24.41), LPGMA-American Vinyl rider Cris Joven (18:25.52), and Ronald Gorantes of Roadbike Philippines (18:26.03), who occupied the fourth, fifth, and sixth places, respectively.
Barnachea, the erstwhile overall leader, is also eager to claw his back on top after sliding down to No. 7 owing to a busted tire and mechanical trouble he encountered in Stage 5. The Navy-Standard bearer has a total time of 18:26.19.