No longer a spring chicken, Ronda Pilipinas leader Santy Barnachea eyes last hurrah
Santy Barnachea, shown in middle with teammates Jan Paul Morales and Ronaldo Oranza, is turning 39 on March 1. Snow Badua

DAGUPAN CITY - At 38, current Ronda Pilipinas leader Santy Barnachea has quite an impressive collection: the 2002 Tour of Calabarzon title, the 2006 Padyak Pinoy crown and the inaugural 2011 Ronda championship.

Now all he wants is a last hurrah.

“Gusto ko na ring mag-retire. Hindi na tayo bumabata. Pero syempre, kung may chance mag-champion, mas maganda,” Barnachea, who will turn 39 on March 1, told Spin.ph shortly after securing the red jersey symbolic of overall leadership after Stage 5.

And on the eve of what is expected to be the biggest challenge to his quest for this year's Ronda crown, Barnachea shared how he has told his teammates about his wish for a fitting sendoff.

“Sabi ko sa kanila, tulungan na nila akong makuha ito. Tapos pwedeng mag-give way na ako sa iba, sa mga batang members ng team namin, tutulong na lang ako sa side,” he said while plotting tactics with Philippine Navy Standard Insurance teammates ahead of the Dagupan to Baguio Stage 6 on Thursday.

“Matagal na rin tayo sa cycling eh. Aminin natin, medyo hindi na tayo bumabata,” Barnachea added with a laugh.

Barnachea is regarded as one of the best tactical riders in local cycling - something a former rival, the now-retired Victor Espiritu, attested to.

“Since 1997, magkalaban na kami nyan, halos magkasing edad kami nyan eh. Magaling 'yan. All around. Complete rider, may ahon, may time trial, may lusong, pwede ring pang one-day race,” said Espiritu.

“Hindi siya banat ng banat. Matalino siyang umatake, alam niya gamitin lakas niya, hindi niya basta-basta inuubos,” added the two-time tour champion who retired after winning the 2007 Padyak Pinoy crown.

Navy second skipper Ronald Oranza, who first made waves in the 2012 Ronda as a Team LBC rider battling Barnachea and eventual champion John Mark Galedo, expressed gratitude for having the chance to ride alongside his fellow Pangasinense and childhood idol.

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“Sobrang proud po ako na nakasama ko siya sa team, marami akong natutunan sa kanya. Lalo sa pagkuha ng timing sa bawat atake,” said Oranza.

“Tinuturuan niya nga rin po ako na maging masikap sa pagkuha ko ng lakas sa ahon, 'yun din kasi weakness ko,” added the 23-year-old pride of Villasis, Pangasinan.

If and when he finally decides to call it quits, Barnachea said he plans to focus on his career in the military while setting up a small business in his hometown of Umingan in Pangasinan.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @snowbadua