ALAMINOS, Pangasinan – More than the veterans, the young guns are what concerns leader Irish Valenzuela when the 86 remaining riders negotiate the relatively flat 193.9 km Stage 9 of the 2013 Ronda Pilipinas from Mangaldan to Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
The one-day breather Wednesday allowed Valenzuela to rest his worn-out body as he’s expected to be on the defensive once again when he wears the red jersey symbolic of the overall leadership for the fourth straight lap.
The 25-year-old national team member carrying the LPGMA-American Vinyl banner, has a total time of 29 hours, 57 minutes and 39 seconds halfway through the 16-stage, 21-day bikathon covering a distance of 2,200-km.
His time is barely a minute and eight-tenths of a second ahead of second-running Ronald Oranza of PLDT-Spyder (29:58.47), whom he considers as among the riders to watch as the P7.5 million bikefest enters its crucial stage.
“Ang plano ko subukan umatake ulit habang dumedepensa din, kasi malalakas `yung kalaban lalung-lalo na `yung mga bata,” admitted Valenzuela, a native of Tabaco, Albay.
Oranza, one of the up-and-coming riders in the country’s under-23 national team, believes he has what it takes to overtake Valenzuela.
“Dikit dikit muna kami tapos kung may pagkakataon, subukan ulit natin,” said Oranza, winner of the Tarlac-Subic Stage 7 and runner-up in the Pagadian-Iligan Stage 3.
Stage 9 is the second longest lap in the race presented by LBC Express, Inc. and backed by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad, and NLEX, where the riders’ sprint skills will be put to a test, which Oranza thinks favors him a lot.
“Tingin ko mas magaling akong sprinter kesa sa kanya (Valenzuela),” said Oranza of Villasis, Pangasinan
Equally interesting as the fight for the individual top purse of P1 million is the team race, which is fast shaping up as a two-way showdown between current leader LPGMA-American Vinyl and PLDT-Spyder.
LPGMA-American Vinyl is clinging on top with a time of 90:19.07, or just 56 seconds faster than PLDT-Spyder (90:20.03).
Meanwhile, the Ronda caravan used the one-day rest to participate in a tree-planting activity at the shores fronting the famous Hundred Islands.