BAGUIO CITY – Not even a spill, contusions, cramps and the determined assault of the tour's finest mountain climbers could topple Ronald Oranza from the top with two stages left in the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas.
The rising star from PLDT-Spyder kept his close three-second gap against closest pursuers Santy Barnachea and Irish Valenzuela despite all the misfortunes he encountered along the daunting mountain passes leading to this summer hideaway from Bayombong during Wednesday's 133-5-km. 14th stage.
Oranza, the 20-year-old pride of Villasis, Pangasinan, appeared headed to yielding the red jersey symbolic of overall supremacy after figuring in a major spill approaching the lap’s final ascent that left him with two big wounds on both his right thigh and knee.
Hurting and obviously shaken, the race leader however quickly picked himself up after the crash then endured the painful cramps he suffered going home to finish the back-breaking race topped by unheralded Junrey Navarra of Mindanao-Cycleline Butuan in the company of his closest pursuers.
Oranza now heads to Thursday’s penultimate individual time trial race – a 34-km. uphill stretch from Pugo in La Union to Baguio– still clinging to a three-second lead (52:10.53) over the second-running Barnachea (52:10.56), and a 33-second gap from the feared climber Valenzuela (52:11.26).
“Hirap na hirap po talaga ako dahil bukod sa masakit `yung sugat dahil dun sa semplang, nag-cramps na din ako nung bandang huli,” said the overall leader. “Tiniis ko na lang talaga kung ano `yung sakit na nararamdaman ko kasi iniisip ko pamilya ko.”
Oranza’s persistence also paid off for his PLDT-Spyder team (153:20.34) which regained the overall lead in the team race by 20 seconds ahead of Navy Standard (153:20.53). In third is Roadbike Philippines (153:23.11).
With still two stages left in race for the P1 million champion’s purse, both Barnachea of Navy-Standard and Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl remain upbeat about their chances of upstaging the badly-bruised Oranza.
“Marami pang mangyayari bukas (Thursday). Puwede pa mag-reshuffle,” said Barnachea, the 36-year-old veteran who won the Ronda two years ago.
“May bukas pa,” said Valenzuela, who’s fancied to win the race owing to his mountain riding skills.
Oranza, Valenzuela, Barnachea, along with Ronald Gorantes of Roadbike Philippines, defending champion Mark Galedo and Joshua Carino of PLDT-Spyder finished the killer lap bunched in fourth place with identical times of 4:50.39, some six minutes behind the 20-year-old Navarra, a first-time lap winner.
The victory of the 20-year-old rookie rider out of General Santos City came two days before his birthday and put him on course to unseating Valenzuela as Ronda’s King of the Mountain.
“Birthday ko po sa February 1. Regalo ko po sa sarili ko ito at natupad ko din po ang pangarap ko na makakuha ng lap,” said the 5-foot-3 Navarra, whose family sells durians back home.
“Hinahandog ko din po sa pamilya ko sa General Santos ang panalo ko dito, sila po kasi ang iniisip ko habang kumakarera ako,” he added.
Navarra checked in at four hours, 44 minutes and 17 seconds, beating out Daniel Asto of Navy-Standard and Baler Ravina of Roadbike Philippines for lap honors after the two submitted identical times of 4:50.04.