IPIL, Zamboanga Sibugay -- Ericson Obosa of Roadbike Philippines bested Cris Joven of American Vinyl and former champion Santy Barnachea of Navy-Standard Insurance in a mad dash to the finish to rule the opening stage of Ronda Pilipinas that started in Zamboanga City and ended in this in this quaint, quiet town on Saturday.
Obosa, Joven, and Barnachea submitted identical times of three hours, seven minutes and eight seconds along with Vicente Vicmar of Team Mindanao Cycleline and Team Y101 FM Cebu at the end of the 132.2-kilometer race.
But it was Obosa who earned the right to wear the symbolic red jersey and pocket the top lap purse of P50,000 for reaching the finish line first.
“Kilala naman akong sprinter kaya ito yung klase ng karera ko,“ said the 33-year-old Obosa, from the hotbed of cycling Manaoag, Pangasinan.
It marked the third time Obosa ruled the first stage of a major cycling event after similarly topping the opening leg of the 2006 and 2007 Tour.
He raised his right hand and shouted in glee after reaching the finish line and edging out Joven for lap honor.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the 26-year-old Joven who appeared headed to sweeping both the king of the mountain and sprint king categories and led the race going into the final 300 meters until Obosa came into the picture and stole the limelight away from him.
“Ang ganda na ng tsansa ko, pero natuka pa,” said Joven, a proud son of Iriga, the last Camarines Sur city entering neighboring Albay.
“Pero masaya na rin ako na nasa taas tayo ng standings habang maaga pa,” he added.
Bankrolling the 16-stage, 21- day event that offers a cool P1 million top prize to the champion are LBC Express, Inc. with Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad, NLEX as supporters and Sun Star as media partner.
Barnachea, who won three Tour titles including the inaugural edition of Ronda Pilipinas three years back, showed he still has what it takes to contend for the title after finishing third behind Obosa and Joven and upstaging fancied bets like reigning champion Mark Galedo of Roadbike and last year's runner-up Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl.
“Maaga pa ang karera pero gusto kong makakuha na ng oras bago ang akyatan,” said the 36-year-old Barnachea, a Navy private first class.
Galedo, out for a title repeat after emerging the second millionaire champion of the annual cycling spectacle, and Valenzuela opted to play it safe and stuck with the main peloton.
“Maaga pa talaga para kumawala. Reserba muna tayo ng lakas, “ said the 27-year-old Galedo, who got hitched last December 12 to longtime girlfriend Grace Alon.
“Alam ko binabantayan nila ako kaya hindi pa ako umaatake. Sa mga susunod na stages, susubukan ko na,” said the 26-year-old Valenzuela, the vaunted mountain-climber rider who won the Manila-Baguio race four years ago and was the King of the Mountain winner in the first two editions of the Ronda.
Rey Martin and Oscar Rindole wound up finishing in the second group with Team Tarlac's Tomas Martinez on clockings of 3:07.15 to help propel defending team champion Smart seized the early lead with an aggregate time of 9:24.57 ahead of Navy-Standard's 9:26.20, and Team Tarlac’ 9:26.20, respectively.