By Jerome Lagunzad
PAGUDPUD, Ilocos Norte — Back-to-back champion Jan Paul Morales of Navy-Standard Insurance need not to look far on who’s looming as the biggest threat to his title reign.
Fellow Navyman Ronald Oranza sustained his remarkable sprinting prowess yesterday as he stamped his class anew in the relatively flat Stage 2 to seize the overall lead in the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas presented by LBC.
Picking up from where he left off following his opening lap victory in the 40-kilometer criterium race in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, last Saturday, Oranza, 25, controlled the pace early on and proved steadier in the final three kilometers to solo it home at the finish line infront of Padugpud Municipal Hall here.
The pride of Villasis, Pangasinan negotiated the 155.4-km ride that passed through the coastal side of Maharlika Highway in three hours, 34 minutes and 13 seconds.
Thanks to his early charge, Oranza seized the coveted Red Jersey from Morales, 32, as the individual general classifications leader with an accumulated clocking of four hours, 45 minutes and 14 seconds so far, more than six minutes ahead of his touted teammate.
Asked whether he’ll still play the domestique role to Morales for the rest of the 12-stage race, Oranza, also the sprint pacesetter with 24 points, said: “Pantay pantay po kaming lahat dito sa team. Kung sino ‘yung nauna, susuportahan naman ng lahat.”
Morales, perhaps feeling the expected pressure from his main rivals, struggled this time around as he finished a distant 27th in a 16-man group, six minutes and four seconds behind Oranza, and dropped to ninth overall in the individual rankings.