CYCLELINE-Butuan Mindanao's Reimon Lapaza seized the overall lead with a fine ride in the penultimate Stage 13 on Saturday, creating a gap that barring any final-day mishap should be enough to earn him the title in the Ronda Pilipinas International 2014.
Lapaza was with the second group of riders that crossed the finish line, just three seconds off the podium finishers while erstwhile leader Mark Galedo failed to match pace and fell to third place overall.
PLDT-Maynilad's Rustom Lim topped the 149.1-kilometer Stage 13 that wheeled off from Clark, Pampanga and ended here in Subic Bay in Zambales while Army's Irish Valenzuela, last year's champion, and Navy-Standard's Lloyd Lucien Reynante wound up second and third, respectively, with identical times of three hours, 35 minutes and 13 seconds.
The 28-year-old Lapaza, Frenchman Peter Pouly and Navy-Standard’s George Oconer finished just three seconds off.
The final stage, a criterium in Marikina City on Sunday, will fire off with Lapaza in the red jersey and with a lead of one minute and 12 seconds over Pouly and 1:18 ahead of Galedo.
"I couldn't believe it, I really didn't expect to win here in Ronda Pilipinas, it's really beyond my imagination," said an ecsatic Lapaza, a proud son of Butuan City who had never made it into the top 10 in the previous editions of the annual bikathon presented by LBC.
The performance of Reynante and Oconer also enabled Navy-Standard to move from third to first in the overall standings with a total time of 132:10:57, which is three minutes and 25 seconds better than PLDT-Maynilad (132:14:22) and over 12 minutes ahead of erstwhile leader 7-Eleven (132:23:06).
"It's not yet over but if I race intelligently tomorrow, I will keep this," said Lapaza, a former motorcycle mechanic who took up the sport only three years ago, when he joined Ronda Pilipinas for the first time.
Oconer is fourth in the overall individual standings (44:03:19) followed by Roadbike's Marcelo Felipe (44:05:36), Lim (44:07:31), Navy-Standard's Santy Barnachea (44:09:40), Valenzuela (44:10:27), Reynante (44:14:53) and PLDT-Maynilad's Ronald Oranza (44:15:44) in the event presented by LBC, sponsored by MVP Sports Foundation, Petron, NLEX, Maynilad, PLDT and Mitsubishi, Versa 2 Way Radio and Standard Insurance and minor sponsor Air Asia Zest and C! Magazine, sanctioned by PhilCycling and backed by Shimano Cannondale bikes, the Department of Tourism and Philippine National Police chief Allan Purisima.