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 of the solo overall lead in the 11th LBC Ronda Pilipinas, Friday in Echague, Isabela.
Morales, the 2016 and 2017 Ronda king, ruled the 174.4-kilometer Stage Eight 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 all with the same clocking in the race now reduced to a two-sided 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.
And 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 28:00:25.
The 10th and last stage is a 3.1km criterium that starts and ends at Burnham Park in a lap that would pass through the busy Session Road for the first time in the history of Ronda tomorrow.
“I tried to find ways and did my best to close in on him (Oranza) in this stage but he was with me from the start,” said Morales, who posted his third podium finish here after ruling the individual Stage One triumph last March 11 in Sorsogon and winding up third in the Lucena-Tagaytay Stage Six Tuesday.
“I will just have to stick with him (Morales) tomorrow (today) as much as I can,” said Oranza.
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 has also kept its iron grip of the overall team lead at 81:22:24 followed by Excellent Noodles at 81:36:18 and Go for Gold at 82:00:36.
This annual event stakes a P3.5 million cash pot including P1 million to the champion courtesy of LBC Express, Inc., MVP Sports Foundation, Quad X, Smart, Twin Cycle Gear, Standard Insurance, Print2Go, Elves Bicycles, Elitewheels, Orome, Maynilad, PhilHydro, Garmin, Petron, Boy Kanin, Green Planet Bikeshop, Prolite, Fujiwara, Black Mamba Energy Drink, Lightwater, LBC Foundation, PhilCycling, and the Games and Amusements Board.