Ronda champ-in-waiting Jan Paul Morales not taking chances as he prepares for victory ride
Jan Paul Morales inspects his bike on the eve of the final stage. Snow Badua

MALAYBALAY, Bukidnon - With one last stage left, Philippine Navy Standard Insurance rider Jan Paul Morales is not taking chances before a veritable victory ride in the fifth and final stage of the LBC Ronda Pilipinas Mindanao leg.

Instead of joining the vehicle convoy from the Dahilayan Forest Park to Malaybalay, Morales and his fellow Navymen decided to ride their bikes to better prepare for the final race on Saturday.

"Ang lapit lang naman, di na kami sumakay sa van. Nag bike na lang kami, yung van namin ginamit na lang namin na escort kasi medyo delikado rin ang daan at may pa-zigzag," said Morales, whose Navy team left Dahilayan two hours befoe the convoy took off at 10 a.m. on Friday.

"Kailangan din po namin kasi ihanda katawan namin, hindi lang para sa race bukas kungdi pati sa Visayas leg," he added.

The final race will be another criterium race around the Malaybalay City Plaza where they will race for one full hour plus three laps around the 3-km circuit.

Morales needs only to finish the race to be crowned champion of the Mindanao leg.

Morales believes that the coming Visayas edition of the 2016 Ronda Pilipinas will be tougher as other riders from Manila, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija will be taking part in the race sanctioned by PhilCycling and supported by LBC, LBC Sports, MVP Sports Foundation, Maynilad, NLEX, Versa Radio Tech-1, Petron and Mitsubishi Motors.

"Mga texas (fighting cock) na ang kasali run. Mabigat-bigat na laban na yun. Dito kasi mga bata ang kalaban namin at mga bagong discover, dun sa Visayas, mabigat na ang laban nun," said Phl Navy team captain Lloyd Lucien Reynante.

Meanwhile, top Mindanao discovery James Paolo Ferfas, currently eighth overall, hopes that his experience in Ronda riding side by side with the country's best riders will make him a future force in Philippine cycling.

"Malaking bagay po sa amin na mga taga-probinsya yung magkaruon kami ng karera na sasalihan. Dati po kasi puro kami-kami lang sa mga pyesta ang naglalaban-laban," said Ferfas, a consistent Top 10 finisher in the race.

Asked why they seem to struggle against the Luzon-based riders, Ferfas claimed it's the familiarity of the high-level races.

"Bago pa lang po kasi kami, ngayon pa lang kami lumalaban sa ganitong klase ng karera, kaya hindi maiaalis na kabahan kami habang tumatakbo. Pero magagamay rin namin ito, lahat naman sa ganito nagsisimula," said the lanky teenage rider.

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Ferfas said he also hopes that Ronda will continue to stage high-level races in Mindanao as most organizers normally set their tournaments in the main island of Luzon.

"Yun nga po kinakalungkot namin, hindi kami nagkaka-exposure kasi wala naman kami pera pangpunta sa Manila. Kesa ipamasahe namin sa barko, ibibili na lang namin ng gamit," he said.

"Buti nga may mga karerang ganito na dinadala sa amin," added Ferfas.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @snowbadua