NAVY-STANDARD Insurance's Jan Paul Morales and Rudy Roque will go into the final three stages of the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2017 as the last two riders with a realistic chance of going home with this year's title.
Morales, 31, is leading the way with an aggregate time of 37 hours, 25 minutes and 56 seconds after 11 stages while Roque, 25, is just about two minutes behind with a total clocking of 37:28:11.
And both agree the 40-km Stage 12 Individual Time Trial in Guimaras on March 2 will be the deciding factor in their two-man showdown.
"We have agreed weeks before that whoever among us from Navy who still leads after the Stage 12 ITT in Guimaras will be the rider we will support to win the title," said Morales in Filipino.
"If it's still me, I would be happy. If it's not, it will also be okay as long the winner is a Navy teammate," he added.
Roque, for his part, feels little pressure since a second place finish will be an accomplishment in itself considering his best performance in this annual race was ninth overall in the inaugural edition six years ago.
"It's my dream to win Ronda Pilipinas but being second isn't that bad," said Roque, who hails from Tipo, Bataan.
Roque made his move by ruling the Calamba-Antipolo Stage 11 on Tuesday that saw him cut a four-minute deficit against Morales to just two.
Roque, who ruled the opening stage in Vigan, Ilocos Sur to lead in the first seven stages before relinquishing it to Morales in Stage Eight, could have snatched the lead had Morales failed to finish second in the same stage.
"I'll just count my blessings and appreciate what I have now," said Roque.
Roque is more mindful of No. 3 Cris Joven of Kinetix Lab-Army, who was at No. 3 with 37:37:03.
Go for Gold's Bryant Sepnio jumped from No. 6 to No. 4 with 37:41:33 while RC Cola-NCR's Lionel Dimaano leapt from No. 8 to No. 5 with 37:46:05.
Ilocos Sur's Ryan Serapio and Navy's Daniel Ven Carino and skipper Lloyd Lucien Reynante resurfaced in the top 10 at Nos. 6, 7 and 8 with 37:47:16, 37:48:28 and 37:48:43, respectively.
Navy's Ronald Lomotos and Kinetix Lab-Army's Reynaldo Navarro completed the top 10 with 37:48:45 and 37:49:49.
The race will take a week-long break and will resume with Stage 12 set on March 2 in Guimaras and Stages 13 and 14 on March 3 and 4 in Iloilo City.
Ronda is staking P1 million to the champion courtesy of presentor LBC and in partnership with MVP Sports Foundation, Petron, Mitsubishi, Versa.ph, Partas, Maynilad, Standard Insurance, CCN, Bike Xtreme, NLEX, PhilCycling and 3Q Sports Event Management.