TITLEHOLDER Jan Paul Morales edged Ronnel Hualda to rule Stage Nine at Paseo de Sta. Rosa in Laguna on Sunday and tighten his grip on the lead in Ronda Pilipinas 2017.
The 31-year-old Morales added the win to victories in Stages Two in Vigan, Three in Subic and Six in Daet.
The Navy-Standard Insurance rider has an aggregate clocking of 30:00:58, now two minutes and 37 seconds ahead of teammate Rudy Roque.
Morales is looking to join Santy Barnachea as the two-time champions of Ronda.
"They say I will win it but I keep reminding myself that it isn't over yet and anything can happen," said Morales. "All I can do right now is to take it a stage at a time and ride intelligently.
"And if I can do that, then I can celebrate," he added.
Hualda, the Go for Gold skipper, believes the title is in the bag for Morales.
"I think he has 80-percent chance of winning this. If this is basketball, its like he's leading by 40 points," said Hualda.
Morales, who also leads the sprint and King of the Mountain races, will continue to wear the red jersey as the race goes on the 130-km Tagaytay-Batangas-Tagaytay Stage 10.
Navy skipper Lloyd Lucien Reynante towed the peloton and checked in at third place as the Navymen kept the lead in the overall team race with a total time of 121:12:04, ahead of Go for Gold (121:32:17) and Kinetix Lab-Army (121:53:34).
Ronald Lomotos, another Navyman, is at No. 3 overall with 30:05:56 while Go for Gold's Jonel Carcueva stayed at No. 4 but now almost six minutes off pace.
Rounding out the top 10 were Kinetix L:ab-Army's Cris Joven (30:06:50), Go for Gold's Bryant Sepnio (30:08:34) and Elmer Navarro (30:08:41), RC Cola-NCR's Leonel Dimaano (30:08:48), Go for Gold's Ismael Grospe, Jr. (30:10:46) and Navy's Jay Lampawog (30:10:58).
The champion will receive P1 million.