SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines – Young rider George Oconer took advantage as the chief contenders watched each other’s move and snatched victory that propelled Navy-Standard to the overall team lead after the 13th stage of the Ronda Pilipinas 2013 yesterday.
Oconer rode with the chase pack in three ascents in Diadi town then went on an attack mode, breezing past rookie Junrey Navarra of Mindanao-Cycleline Butuan in the homestretch for top honors in Ronda's longest stage covering 204.4 kilometers from Tuguegarao, Cagayan to this populous Nueva Vizcaya capital.
PLDT-Spyder's Ronald Oranza, Navy-Standard's Santy Barnachea, LPGMA-American Vinyl’s Irish Valenzuela and Roadbike Ph's Ronald Gorantes kept their top four positions as they rode as one to the finish witnessed by a big crowd at the Tomas Dacayo Community Center here.
Oconer, son of 1992 Barcelona Olympian Norberto, and Navarra, a 20-year-old General Santos City native, both registered clockings of four hours, 26 minutes and 45 seconds.
"It's been a while since I won a lap so I guess the long wait is worth it," said Oconer, whose last stage triumph came in the Batangas City-Tagaytay stage of the inaugural Ronda.
Oconer's win somehow eased the pain teammate Jan Paul Morales suffered following a spill on a downhill slope in the tough Diadi stretch, some 30 kilometers to the finish line.
Morales, who finished second in the Pagudpud-Aparri Stage 11 and first in the Aparri-Tuguegarao Stage 12, finished the race bloodied and ended up in a local hospital where he celebrated his 27th birthday.
"I dedicate this victory to him (Morales). I saw him fall and I hope he's okay. It's sad to see him in pain during his birthday," said Oconer, the 2011 third placer and Young Rider awardee.
Oconer gained huge ground on his victory, zooming from outside the top 10 to seventh overall with a time of 47:33.44 while pulling his Navy-Standard squad from second place and to No. 1 with an aggregate clocking of 138:46.19, or 11 seconds ahead of erstwhile leader PLDT-Spyder (138:46.31).
Roadbike Ph (138:51.49) was third, followed by LPGMA-American Vinyl (138:59.17), Y101 FM-Cebu (139:05.57), Team Tarlac (139:11.43), VMobile-Smart (139:12.09), Mindanao-Cycleline Butuan (139:22.14), Hundred Islands-Pangasinan (139:58.18), Team Enrile (139:59.10), NCR-San Miguel (140:21.53) and Ilocos Sur-East Pangasinan (140:58.23).
Though beaten by Oconer, Navarra drew praises from his peers for his stamina and staying power.
"I thought I'll get the lap. But I'm still thankful I get to end up at second place. It's already a dream come true for me," said Navarra, who learned how to ride the bike only five years.
Meanwhile, Hundred Islands-Pangasinan's Ferdinand Pablo edged Team Tarlac's Joseph Millanes, PLDT-Spyder’s Jemico Brioso and Rustom Lim and Roadbike Phl’s Ronnel Hualda for third place.
"I'm thankful I finished third. I need the money because my wife is delivering our baby next month," said Pablo on what he will do with the P15,000 lap purse.
The 20-year-old Oranza will still wear the LBC red jersey in Stage 14 of Ronda bankrolled by LBC Express, Inc., the country's leading courier, and backed by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad, SunStar and NLEX.
Barnachea, the 36-year-old 2002 and 2006 Tour king and 2011 Ronda winner, remained at second with a time of 47:20.17 while Valenzuela and Gorantes at Nos. 3 and 4 with 47:20.47 and 47:21.25, respectively.
Oranza and Barnachea would have still been in a rare dead heat if not for the precious three seconds bonus awarded by race officials late Sunday on Oranza for a sprint race feat in the Cebu-Cebu Stage Four.
After 13 punishing stages covering more than 2,000 kms of roads in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon, PLDT-Spyder's El Joshua Carino (47:25.36), LPGMA-American Vinyl’s Cris Joven (47:25.41), Oconer (47:33.44), VMobile-Smart's Joel Calderon (47:34.05), Roadbike Ph's Mark Galedo (47:34.45) and Team Tarlac's Merculio Ramos (47:36.37) rounded up the top 10.
Another accident marred the stage after Abd Rahim Azizi, a Malaysian official who serves as chief marshal in the Tour de Langkawi, figured in a motorcycle accident after he hit a fellow marshal and reportedly fractured a collar bone.
The Ronda caravan takes a one-day rest today before proceeding to the feared mountain passes of Baguio for the final three stages starting with tomorrow's ultra-tough Bayombong-Baguio Stage 14 – considered the most challenging of all three stages.