IRISH Valenzuela is ready to defend his red jersey at all cost.
The LPGM American Vinyl skipper has proudly worn the bright kit symbolic of overall leadership while towing every peloton and battling the elements over the past four stages and last 685 kilometers of the 16-stage race.
“Grabe si Irish, ang lakas. Sinosolo talaga yung trangko," said Stage 9 winner Mark Julius Bonzo, amazed by the staying power and dogged determination the overall leader has shown over the past week.
Valenzuela said staying in front of the peloton is one way of keeping a close eye on his top pursuers as he looks to finally win a Ronda Pilipinas title that has twice escaped his grasp.
The top rider of Congressman Arnel Ty and business partner Eric Sy's team now enjoys a 3:08 second lead over second-running Ronald Oranza of PLDT after a strong finish behind Bonzo in the lap that ended in Vigan.
“Ayoko nang bitawan ito. Gusto kong mag-champion. Dalawang beses nang pumipiglas sa akin yun, ngayon gagawin ko lahat para hindi na yun mapakawalan," Valenzuela said.
“Alam ko maraming may gusto nito (red jersey), pero hindi ko to bibitawan ng basta-basta, mahihirapan muna sila," he added while bracing for a "total war" in the final seven stages of this spectacle on wheels.
The 22-year-old rider also cautioned his closest pursuers that he still has more left in the tank in his dogged pursuit of cycling immotality.
“Pangarap kong maging isa sa mga champion, at alam ko ito na ang pinakamalapit kong pagkakataon,” he said.