MANILA, Philippines - Reimon Lapaza of Cycleline-Butuan Mindanao turned the Marikina Criterium final lap yesterday into a coronation run as he completed the biggest comeback in Ronda Pilipinas’ four-year history after a steal of a win in Stage 13.
Ranged against the cream of the country’s crop and a slew of tough foreign riders, the 28-year-old Lapaza held his ground throughout the grueling two-week race before pulling off a scintillating run in the penultimate Clark-Subic Stage 13 Saturday to snatch the overall lead and eventually the crown from erstwhile leader Mark Galedo.
At the end of the 14-stage, 16-day race that covered about 2,000 kilometers of flat roads and mountain climbing, Lapaza came out on top of the crack international field, posting a total of 45 hours, 41 minutes, 33 seconds to join the elite group of former Ronda winners, including inaugural titlist Santy Barnachea of Navy-Standard Insurance, last year’s victor Irish Valenzuela of Army and the one he admired most – Galedo.
“He’s really someone I looked up to when I joined the Ronda three years ago. I’m proud to say that I learned from him and he gave me inspiration,” said Lapaza of Galedo.
Lapaza, who pocketed P1 million and a huge trophy for his feat, also became the first champion from Mindanao.
Frenchman Peter Pouly of Infinite-Singha finished second in 45:42:40 and was named the King of the Mountain while Galedo ended up third in 45:43:08.
Galedo, the 2012 champion who had held the red jersey majority of the way, appeared headed for another triumphant campaign heading to the final two stages with a two-minute lead after successfully fending off his pursuers’ attacks.
But Lapaza had other things in mind.
Lapaza spearheaded a breakaway group approaching the mountain in Morong, Bataan Saturday and turned in a strong fourth place finish, more than three minutes ahead of Galedo.
“God blessed me with so many things, it’s his (Lapaza) time this year and I told him he deserved it,” said Galedo, who cried after his Stage 13 debacle, which also pulled down his 7-Eleven squad from the team standings.
Taiwanese Feng Chun Kai of Team Gusto topped the last stage, beating PLDT-Maynilad’s Ronald Oranza in a photo finish (1:42:21) in the 89-km Stage 14.
It was Feng’s third stage triumph after winning the Tagaytay-San Pablo Stage 3 and the Lucena-Lucena Stage 5.
Navy-Standard’s Barnachea, George Oconer, Lloyd Lucien Reynante, Joel Calderon, Jan Paul Morales and Rudy Roque, meanwhile, captured the team championship
“It’s a team effort, everyone contributed to this success,” said the 36-year-old Barnachea.
Navy-Standard had an aggregate time of 137:18:56, finishing ahead of a Chris Allison-mentored PLDT-Maynilad squad of Oranza, Mark Julius Bonzo, Joshua Carino, Rustom Lim, Junrey Navarra and Ronald Lomotos with 137:21:48 and 7-Eleven’s Galedo, Baler Ravina, Cris Joven, Edmundo Nicolas, Jr., Boots Ryan Cayubit and Mark Julius Bordeos with 137:31:14.
Rounding up the individual top 10 were Oconer (45:45:58), Roadbike’s Marcelo (45:48:06), Lim (45:50:19), Barnachea (45:52:32), Valenzuela (45:53:08), Reynante (45:57:32) and Oranza (45:57:54).
Oconer, son of former Olympian Norberto, was named the Best Young Rider while Im took the Sprint King honors.