by Jerome Lagunzad
TARLAC CITY. — On the day that steady pacesetter Ronald Oranza of Navy-Standard Insurance survived a minor crash, Go for Gold Elite Team skipper George Oconer showed some signs of life in the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas presented by LBC.
Oconer, 26, finally lived up to his lofty billing as he outsprinted Oranza, his fellow national team standout, in a mad dash to the finish to rule the relatively-flat 111.8km Stage 6 that was marred by a pair of crashes on Friday.
The son of former two-time Olympian Norberto, Oconer spearheaded a six-man breakaway at the welcome arc of this landlocked province in Central Luzon then nosed out Oranza by a bike length in a slightly uphill finish in front of the Tarlac Provincial Capitol here.
“Nag-usap na lang kami (ni Oranza) na ituloy na rin namin kasi ‘pag inabot pa kami ng grupo, mas maraming kalaban sa likod,” said Oconer, who claimed his first lap victory in this year’s 12-stage race in two hours, 37 minutes and four seconds.
“Wala naman naging ibang taktika. Nagkabanatan lang talaga kasi lahat gusto makakawala, gusto manalo. Tsaka parang laro ng mga sprinters ‘to kasi patag talaga. Nagkaroon lang ng pagkakataon makawala nung last 10 (kilometers) kaya pinursigi na namin.”
Oranza, 25, came up a tad short for his third overall lap victory but still maintained his comfortable lead in the overall individual rankings with an aggregate time of 20 hours, 17 minutes and 12 seconds, still 5:08 ahead of second-running Jan Paul Morales, his fellow Navyman and the reigning back-to-back Ronda champion.
The pride of Villasis, Pangasinan, however, could still heave a big sigh of relief after he sustained a bad gash below his right knee and apparently injured his left thumb when he was accidentally bumped from behind by Go for Gold Developmental Team’s Ronnilan Quita in Camiling, some 35 kilometers to the finish.
That perhaps served as an ominous sign of a looming danger as the peloton suffered a bigger crash on a sharp curve along the Romulo Boulevard with less than a kilometer to go, with 2013 champion Irish Valenzuela, the CCN Superteam skipper, enduring a bruised left collarbone and a sprained left wrist.
The troubled windup nearly overshadowed the continued dominance of the fancied Navymen in the country’s biggest cycling race supported by MVP Sports Foundation, CCN, Petron, Versa.ph, 3Q Sports Event Management, Inc., Boy Kanin, Franzia, Standard Insurance, Bike Xtreme, SH+, Guerciotti, Prolite, Green Planet, Maynilad, NLEX Cycling, Lightwater, LBC Foundation and PhilCycling.
Navyman Ronald Lomotos moved up to the third spot with a total time of 20:26:09, followed by Go for Gold Developmental Team’s Jay Lampawog ((20:28:05), still the best Under-23 rider, at fourth and Army-Bicycology skipper Cris Joven (20:28:48) at fifth.
Meanwhile, Oconer moved back to the Top 10 picture at eighth overall with an aggregate clocking of 20:31:22, still more than 14 minutes behind Oranza. “Medyo mahirap na ‘yan (habulin) pero gagawin ko pa rin ‘yung lahat para laging mapunta sa harap,” he said.
In the team rankings, Navy-Standard Insurance, as expected, remained way ahead with a total clocking of 81:23:35, with Go for Gold Developmental Team (81:53:13) and Army-Bicycology ((82:10:37) still its distant pursuers.
The remaining protagonists will have little time to rest and recuperate from their respective injuries as they return to action on Saturday with the 31.5km individual time trial made tougher by an uphill finish at the Monasterio de Tarlac, located on top of Mount Resurrection.