LAPU LAPU CITY, Cebu – For the 92 riders still standing three stages into the Ronda Pilipinas, this should be the calm before the storm.
After a two-day rest, leader Santy Barnachea and the rest of the field brace for the first two of several ascents that highlight the two-stage sojourn of the race in the Queen City of the South.
Negotiating relatively flat roads during the first three legs of the bikathon, the cyclists will now tackle a pair of category 4 climbs and a category 3 ascent during Thursday’s 134.2-kilometer race which starts and ends in Cebu City.
Then on Friday, they’ll negotiate two more category 4 ascents during the 156.8kms fifth lap that fires off at the Lapu Lapu City Hall here and conclude with a mountain top finish at the Mountain View Natures Park in Barangay Busay, Cebu.
And the 36-year-old Barnachea, who wore the red jersey symbolic of the overall leadership the last two stages, is aware the battle begins here in this historic city down South.
“Dito magsisimula ang karera,” said Barnachea, the three-time Tour King, who has so far amassed a clocking of nine hours, 54 minutes and 19 seconds to show the way in the race for the top purse of P1 million.
Barnachea of Navy-Standard so far holds a two-minute edge over closest pursuer Tomas Martinez of Team Tarlac (9:56.20) and an almost three-minute edge over race sensation Rudy Roque of LPGMA-American Vinyl (9:57.13).
But the veteran cyclist was quick to point out he already consumed a lot of energy just to get the overall lead in the early stages of this P7.5 million event presented by LBC Express, Inc. and backed by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad and NLEX.
“Medyo nalaspag ako sa unang tatlong stages kaya hindi ako nakakasigurado, maaga pa kasi talaga,” he said.
Roque, 21, is definitely in hot pursuit of the leader especially after pulling off a surprise in the last stage (Pagadian-Iligan) by beating out illustrious teammates Irish Valenzuela and Cris Joven for lap honors.
The win vaulted him from no. 11 in the standings to No. 3 overall.
“Gusto ko rin po talagang mag-champion, kaya naman. Pero marami talagang magagaling pati na mga kasama ko sa PGMA-American Vinyl,” said Roque, a Tipo, Bataan native, obviously referring to both Valenzuela and Joven.
Also expected to start making their moves are Roadbike Phl's Ronadl Gorrantes (9:57.19), Valenzuela (9:57.20), Smart's Joel Calderon (9:57.28), Navy-Standarad's George Oconer (9:57.35), Smart's Marcelo Felipe (9:57.38), Joven (9:57.38) and Hundred Islands-Pangasian's Reynalde Navarro (9:57.57), who all rounded out the top 10 riders.
Reigning champion Mark Galedo of Roadbike Phl is currently at 17th overall ( 9:59.22), lagging behind by five minutes off the pace but still remains in contention.
“Subukan ulit natin,” said the 27-year-old Galedo.
Meanwhile, the LBC Express, Inc. and LBC Foundation will hold a coastal clean-up of the shores of both Mactan and Lapu Lapu City Wednesday as part of its social responsibility program under Nena Wuthridge.