TUGUEGARAO, Cagayan – Youthful Ronald Oranza survived the spirited challenge of ageless Santy Barnachea to keep the overall lead with four stages left in the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas.
Barnachea appeared to have earlier caught up with Oranza on top in a rare dead heat after checking in 64th and 12 seconds ahead of the leader at the end of the chaos-marred 101.3 km Stage 12 from Aparri all the way to the provincial capitol here.
The two finished with identical aggregate clockings of 42 hours, 32 minutes, and 32 seconds. But organizers later deducted three seconds on Oranza’s official time, which now stood at 42 hours, 32 minutes, and 29 seconds after his PLDT-Spyder American coach Chris Allison noted the rider won the intermediate sprint during the Stage 4 of the race which failed to reflect on his total clocking.
Oranza is now assured to wear the red jersey symbolic of the overall leadership when the 21-day bikefest negotiates the longest of its 16-stage route Monday from Tuguegarao to Solano or a total of 204.4 km. Barnachaea, the 36-year-old star rider of Navy-Standard, was himself surprised when he was awarded the red jersey by race director Ric Rodriguez for posting a faster time than Oranza during Sunday’s 12th Stage won by John Paul Morales of Navy-Standard.
“Hindi ko inaakala na ako kukuha ng red jersey. Ang buong akala ko si Oranza pa rin. Ang totoo nga nasa hotel na ako nung pinatawag ako pabalik sa stage para sa awarding,” said Barnachea, who wore the red jersey for three stages earlier on before being toppled on top by Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl after Stage Five from Lapu-Lapu to Busay.
After a thorough deliberation though – excluding the decision to deduct three seconds on Oranza’s official time - race officials decided to refer to UCI Regulations 2.6.015 which states that in case of equality, “the leading rider” will be decided “based on number of stage victories.”
The PLDT-Spyder top gun had previously topped the Tarlac-Subic Stage 7 and finished second in the Pagadian-Iligan Stage 3. Barnachea for his part, only had one podium finish after placing third at the end of the Zamboanga-Ipil opening stage.
Prior to the change in Oranza’s official time, this marked the first instance there was a dead heat on top since Edmundo de Guzman of Lingayen, Pangasinan and Rodrigo Abaquita of Cebu also finished tied at the helm after Stage Six of the 1962 Tour in Ilocos.
Atty. Gerry Lacuesta, the race director back then, later decided to award the yellow jersey, then the symbolic leader's color, to both de Guzman and Abaquita the next lap.
But Allison admitted it really doesn’t matter had Oranza lost the red jersey to Barnachea. “We have a bigger fish to fry in the next stages,” said the American, who has been training the youthful PLDT-Spyder team for over a year now.
PLDT-Spyder is still on top of the team standings with a total time of 124:23.43, ahead of Navy-Standard (124:24.06) and Roadbike Philippines (124:28.58).
Fancied Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl kept his spot at third place as he continued to stalk Oranza on top, slashing their time difference further to just 31 seconds (42:33.03) with the dreaded Baguio-to-Baguio stage still to come.
Morales got back at Stage 11 tormentor Ronnel Hualda of Roadbike Philippines following a thrilling mass finish by a total of 13 riders during Sunday’s race.
“Masarap na regalo ito dahil birthday ko na bukas (today),” said the 27-year-old Morales, a double bronze medalist in the 2011 Indonesia Southeast Asian Games, who finished runner-up behind Hualda the day before.
For Hualda, he was just too happy to be in the podium for the second straight stage in this event backed by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad, SunStar and NLEX.
“Sinubukan kong kunin ito pero tagalang mabilis siya (Morales). Pero okay na rin hindi na masama na pumangalawa ako,” said Hualda, who was with wife and Roadbike Philippines rookie coach Ednalyn.
Jaybop Pagnanawon of Y101FM-Cebu clocked 2:13.34 to finish third. He is the son of 1986 Tour King Rolando, who is also his coach.
“Para sa tatay ko ito na laging gumagabay sa akin,” said the 23-year-old Pagnanawon.