BAGUIO CITY – LPGMA-American Vinyl's Irish Valenzuela became the latest millionaire champion of the Ronda Pilipinas after breezing through the 16th and final stage that started and ended at the Lakeshore Drive of the populous Burnham Park on this mountaintop city on Friday.
Valenzuela, 25, played it safe, stuck with the big guns and, knowing there's no chance his more than two-minute lead will be overhauled, opted to slow down a bit to wound up 67th in the lap or just 31 seconds behind the stage winner, Navy-Standard’s Jan Paul Morales, who finished in 1:43.47.
By logging an aggregate time of 55 hours, 18 minutes and 52 seconds in the annual cycling spectacle, Valenzuela atoned for his runner-up finish last year and became the first Bicolano tour winner in 18 years.
"Sa wakas, matapos ang mahabang paghihintay ko at mga pasakit at hirap na naranasan ko sa training, nakuha ko rin ang matagal ko nang inaasam, ang manalo dito sa Ronda Pilipinas," said Valenzuela, who was met at the finish line by hugs from teammates, coach Renato Dolosa and parents Kiko and Francia.
"Hindi ko po mapaliwanag ang nararamdaman ko ngayon, sobrang saya ko po talaga kaya laking pasasalamat ko kay God, sa pamilya ko at sa lahat ng tumulong para makamit ko kung ano ang nakamit ko na ngayon," he added.
Valenzuela, who finished second last year behind Roadbike Phl's Mark Galedo, also pocketed the princely sum of P1 million which he hopes to use for a business he and his family are planning to put up.
Valenzuela, who hails from Tabaco, Albay, also made his fellow Bicolanos proud by becoming the first one from the region to win the race since his coach, Sorsogon native Dolosa, won the fabled Marlboro Tour twice in 1992 and 1995.
As triumphant as Valenzuela were the Roadbike Phl riders, who sent Jimmy Aquino, Jr. and Ronnel Hualda to a podium finish to officially clinch the team crown by accumulating a total time of 162:51.29 while pocketing the P1-million prize courtesy of LBC Express.
Ronald Gorantes was at the forefront of Roadbike's success as he ended up second overall in 55:20.49 while team skipper Mark Galedo, last year's Ronda king, finished sixth with a time of 55:33.32. Baler Ravina, its best mountain climber, Ericson Obosa, Harvey Sicam and Alfie Catalan were the other members of the squad, mentored by the only woman coach in the event, Ednalyn Hualda.
The 27-year-old Morales, a Calumpang, Marikina native who topped the Pagudpud-Aparri Stage 11, became the only cyclist in this year's edition to win a lap more than once after topping the final stage by besting 18 others, including Aquino, 20, and Hualda.
Rounding up the Top 10 in the individual race were former leader PLDT-Spyder's Ronald Oranza (55:21.00), Navy's Santy Barnachea (55:23.20), PLDT-Spyder's El Joshua Carino (55:26.26), Mindanao-Cycleline Butuan's Junrey Navarra (55:37.12), VMobile-Smart's Joel Calderon (55:39.40), LPGMA's Cris Joven (55:39.49) and Navy's George Oconer (55:43.27).