ALAMINOS, Pangasinan, Philippines – Irish Valenzuela's LPGMA-American Vinyl team and Ronald Oranza's PLDT-Spyder squad brace for a spirited duel as Ronda Pilipinas 2013 resumes today with the long but relatively flat, 193.9-km Stage Nine firing off in Mangaldan and finishing in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
Although the race for the top P1 million purse remains wide open, the title hunt is fast shaping up to be a battle between the LPGMA-American Vinyl and PLDT-Spyder riders who have dominated the first half of the 16-stage odyssey on wheels.
Valenzuela, seeking his first Ronda title, is on the right track, assembling an aggregate time of 29 hours, 57 minutes, 39 seconds for the symbolic red jersey while Oranza, 20, is just 1.08 minutes behind with 29:58.47 clocking.
But Oranza, from Villasis, Pangasinan, has chopped precious seconds off Valenzuela's lead in the last two laps with impressive finishes, including a winning effort in the Tarlac-Subic Stage Seven.
"He's (Oranza) a strong opponent, hopefully I could hang on to this red jersey," said Valenzuela, who lost the crown to Mark Galedo of Roadbike-PH last year.
Oranza, meanwhile, exudes confidence as he shoots for a second lap win in the last three stages.
"I think I'm the better sprinter than him (Valenzuela)," said Oranza.
As close as the individual race is the battle in team play with LPGMA-American Vinyl clinging to a 56-second lead with a 90:19.07 aggregate, ahead of PLDT-Spyder, which moved to No. 2 with 90:23.10.
"We need to think of the team first before our individual self because everyone of us have a role to play," said PLDT-Spyder skipper Mark Julius Bonzo.
Meanwhile, the Ronda caravan took part in a tree-planting activity fronting the famous Hundred Islands yesterday morning of the event bankrolled by LBC Express, Inc. and backed by Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad and NLEX.
Other riders expected to launch their assaults in today's leg are LPGMA-American Vinyl's Cris Joven, Roadbike PH's Ronald Gorantes, Barnachea, PLDT-Spyder El Joshua Carino, Calderon, Y101 FM-Cebu's Marvin Tapic, Galedo and Team Tarlac's Merculio Ramos, who rounded out the top 10 with clockings of 30:01.38, 30:01.51, 30:02.54, 30:06.20, 30:08.13, 30:11.55, 30:12.26 and 30:13.30, respectively.