CEBU CITY – Five stages into the Ronda Pilipinas and Irish Valenzuela has started to make his move.
Showing his vaunted climbing skills, the lead rider of LPGMA-American Vinyl seized the overall lead on Friday by finishing a strong second behind lap winner El Joshua Carino of PLDT-Spyder.
Carino topped the 156.8-kilometer race that started in Lapu Lapu City and ended at the summit of Barangay Busay here by clocking four hours, 35 minutes, and 51 seconds.
But the 25-year-old Valenzuela was not far behind with his time of 4:37.41, enough to overhaul the three-minute lead held by erstwhile leader Santy Barnachea of Navy-Standard just before the race.
The proud son of Tabaco, Albay now has an aggregate time of 18:21.12, or a slim 96-second lead over the second-running Carino (18:23.10).
“Talagang binigay ko na lahat dito dahil alam ko ito na ang pagkakataon na makuha ko ang overall lead papuntang Luzon,” said the new race leader.
Valenzuela, the King of the Mountain winner in the first two editions of the Ronda, broke away from the pack along with Carino, Cebuano Marvin Tapic of Y101FM, and Ronald Oranza of PLDT-Spyder in the final 20 kms entering the dreaded one-km ascent considered as the second toughest climb in this year’s race.
But it was the daring 19-year-old Carino, a native of Mangaldan, Pangasinan, who breasted the tape first, clenching his two fists as he crossed the finish line situated on top of the Mountain View Natures Park, which boasts of a panoramic view of practically the whole city.
"Pinaghandaan ko po talaga ang Ronda na ito," said a cheerful Carino, who took up competitive biking shortly upon graduating at Mangaldan National High School.
The spotlight, however, shifted to Valenzuela by the time the race drives towards Luzon for Sunday’s 128.3 km. stage six from Malolos to Tarlac.
“Maaga pa pero ang sarap siguro maging champion,” said Valenzuela, who finished runner up behind eventual champion Mark Galedo of Roadbike Philippines last year.
Meanwhile, Tapic made the entire Cebu province proud of him by finishing third behind Carino and Valenzuela with a time of 4:39.21 for his first podium finish ever, while Oranza, a 21-year-old rider from Villasis, Pangasinan, checked in at fourth with 4:39.39 clocking.
Barnachea was definitely the biggest casualty of the day.
The 36-year-old veteran got stuck in the peloton and failed to make headway. He surrendered the symbolic red jersey to Valenzuela after he fell from first to seventh place overall with an aggregate clocking of 18:26.19 or about five minutes off the pace.
Oranza even overtook Barnachea in the standings as he placed third overall with a time of 18:23.10.