ECHAGUE, Isabela — Ronald Oranza of Navy Standard Insurance stuck to Jan Paul Morales of Excellent Noodles like a leech in Stage Eight to keep a firm grip on the overall lead in the 11th LBC Ronda Pilipinas on Friday.
Morales, the 2016 and 2017 Ronda king, ruled the 174.4-kilometer stage that started in Baler, Aurora, threaded through the mountains of Quirino and ended in front of the municipal hall here in four hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds.
But Oranza, the 2018 winner, was there with Morales all along and checked in at second with eventual third-placer Marcelo Felipe of Team Nueva Ecija with the same clocking in the race now reduced to a two-man affair going into the last two stages.
The 36-year-old former Navy skipper, however, managed to slice four seconds off the 29-year-old Oranza’s 42-second lead after the Tarlac-Baler Stage Seven in the individual general classification race the day before.
It now boils down to who between Oranza and Morales could muster enough strength when the race enters its final two stages including the feared mountain passes of Baguio via its backdoor from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.
Oranza has a total time of 27:59:47 while Morales has 28:00:25 in the annual event that stakes a P3.5 million cash pot including P1 million to the champion.
The 10th and last stage is a 3.1km criterium that starts and ends at the Burnham Park in a lap that would pass through the busy Session Road for the first time in the history of Ronda on Saturday.
Morales posted his third podium finish after ruling the individual time trial Stage One triumph last March 11 in Sorsogon and winding up third in the Lucena-Tagaytay Stage Six Tuesday.
At distant third was Jonel Carcueva of Go for Gold at 28:02:55, while Ronald Lomotos of Navy Standard Insurance and Felipe were at fourth and fifth at 28:08:54 and 28:09:36, respectively.
Rounding out the Top 10 were Navy Standard Insurance’s El Joshua Carino (28:11:00) and Jeremy Lizardo (28:11:11), Excellent Noodles’ Ryan Tugawin (28:13:29), Navy Standard Insurance’s John Mark Camingao (28:15:20) and Go for Gold’s Jericho Jay Lucero (28:20:13).
Navy Standard Insurance also kept an iron grip on the overall team lead at 81:22:24 followed by Excellent Noodles at 81:36:18 and Go for Gold at 82:00:36.