IPIL, Zamboanga Sibugay – Roadbike Philippines' Ericson Obosa unleashed all his might in a showdown with cycling's illustrious names – the fancied Cris Joven and the ageless Santy Barnachea – in the last 300 meters yesterday and emerged winner in the photo finish of the 132.2 km opening stage of the 2013 LBC Ronda Pilipinas.
Obosa kept abreast with the lead group that blasted off in Zamboanga City before storming into the lead when nobody else was looking to win stage honors at the kickoff stage which ended in this serene, quaint town.
The win thus installed the 33-year-old son of Manaoag, Pangasinan as the temporary leader and contender for the top P1 million prize in this 16-leg, 21-day, 2,200-kilometer tour, the country’s longest cycling race and the richest with a total prize of P7.5 million.
Although Obosa posted the same time as Joven, Barnachea, Vicente Vicmar of Team Mindanao Cycleline and Team Y101 FM Cebu in three hours, seven minutes, eight seconds, the former will go into today’s 139.5km Ipil-Pagadian Stage Two wearing the red jersey, symbolic of current leadership, with a total aggregate time of 3:06.54.
"I'm really a strong sprinter and I took advantage of my gifts," said Obosa.
It also marked the third time in a decade-long career that Obosa won the opening stage after also taking first-stage honors in the 2006 and 2007 Tour.
But his best could be his last.
Obosa said he plans to retire after this event to concentrate on his newfound job as team trainer and mechanic of Roadbike Phl managed by Bong Sual.
"I'm getting old so I’m retiring after this because my boss (Sual) promised me a job as team trainer and mechanic for Roadbike after this Ronda and I’m planning to take his offer," said Obosa.
Joven, a 33-year-old pride of Iriga City, was about to sweep everything – king of the mountain, sprint king and lap win – before Obosa spoiled the fun and took one away from him.
"I thought I'm going to win it all because I topped the KOM and sprint race," said Joven, who wound up in the top five last year. “But he (Obosa) stuck with me in the end and when he got his chance to overtake me, he took it.”
"But I'm happy to be up there now and I hope to get more lead time approaching the more difficult stages of this race," he added.
Barnachea, one of the oldest in the Ronda at 36 years old but definitely one of the most seasoned and smartest racers, was just too happy make it to the podium finish.
"It's only the first lap but finishing in the top three isn't that bad," said Barnachea, the most titled in the current batch of 96 riders with three Tour wins including the first edition of this event bankrolled by LBC Express, Inc.
Last year's Ronda king Mark Galedo of Roadbike and 2012 runner-up Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl opted to keep close to the other big guns and failed to gain ground at any point during the entire journey.
"It's a little early to attack," said the 27-year-old Galedo, who appeared more inspired now after finally tying the knot with long-time girl friend Grace Alon last Dec. 12 in Tagaytay City.
"I was being guarded the whole time so it's really hard for me to get out of the peloton. Maybe I'll try again next time," said the 25-year-old Valenzuela, who is nursing a hurting left shoulder he injured during training last December – on the uphill rides to the rice terraces of Banaue.
Smart's Rey Martin and Oscar Rindole and Team Tarlac's Tomas Martinez were in the second group with an identical clocking of 3:07.15 while Team Tarlac's Sherwin Diamsay and PLDT-Spyder's Jemico Brioso rounded up the top 10 in 3:09.17.
The efforts of Martin and Rindole helped propel defending champion Smart to the team lead with an aggregate time of 9:24.57, slightly ahead of the 9:26.20 of Navy-Standard and Team Tarlac.
The LBC Ronda Pilipinas is supported by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad and NLEX.