New leader rises on Black Saturday

By Joey Villar, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 16 2014 08:38 AM | Updated as of Feb 16 2014 04:38 PM

SUBIC, Philippines – From obscurity to cycling greatness.

Reimon Lapaza of Cycleline-Butuan Mindanao completed a massive turnaround, snatching the overall lead and what could be the Ronda Pilipinas International 2014 title from Mark Galedo of 7-Eleven with a ride to remember after the penultimate Stage 13 that started in Clark and concluded in front of Harbour Point Hotel here yesterday.

Lapaza, 28, towed the breakaway group approaching the mountain in Morong, Bataan and finished with Frenchman Peter Pouly of Infinite-Singha and Navy-Standard Insurance’s George Oconer that checked in at fourth in the lap with same three-hour, 35-minute, 13-second clocking.

It catapulted the proud Butuan City native from second to the top with an aggregate time of 43:58:58 as Galedo faded and fell to third overall with 44:00:16 behind No. 2 Pouly with 44:00:10, turning today’s last lap – an 89-kilometer Marikina City criterium – into his coronation ceremony.

The former motorcycle mechanic crossed the finish line and met the sizeable weekend crowd and, in celebration knowing he had just grabbed the symbolic leader’s jersey, threw his plastic water bottle into the air.

His Cycleline-Butuan Mindanao teammates, also in pandemonium, then joined him and carried him on their shoulders, shouting “La-pa-za, La-pa-za, La-pa-za.”

“I never imagined I will win here, it’s beyond my dreams,” said a jubilant Lapaza, who launched a cycling career the same year this annual bikathon held its inaugural race three years back.

PLDT-Maynilad’s Rustom Lim topped the stage after outsprinting last year’s champion Irish Valenzuela of Army and Lloyd Lucien Reynante of Navy-Standard in another pulsating finish in identical time of 3:35:13.

Navy-Standard, captained by first Ronda king Santy Barnachea, shared the spotlight with Lapaza as it snatched the overall team lead from Galedo and his 7-Eleven team after it leapfrogged from No. 3 to No. 1 with a total clocking of 132:10:57 thanks to strong efforts by Reynante and Oconer.

7-Eleven slid all the way down to No. 3 with 132:14:22, a whopping 12.09 minutes off the pace and more than nine minutes below No. 2 PLDT-Maynilad, which was buoyed by Lim’s first stage triumph, with 132:14:22.

Like Lapaza, Barnachea’s bunch should use Stage 14 as its victory lap.

“It’s ours for the taking now,” said the 36-year-old Barnachea, who has focused on helping his team win the team crown after losing the individual lead to Galedo in the Lucena-Antipolo Stage 6 more than a week ago.

While Lapaza and Navy-Standard jumped for joy in victory, Galedo and his 7-Eleven team sulked in the team tent, perhaps contemplating what went wrong or what didn’t turn out right.

It was specifically painful for the 28-year-old Galedo, who had it all wrapped up after a spectacular podium finish in the San Fernando-Baguio Stage 11 Wednesday when he gained a 2.17-minute cushion against Lapaza.

So heartbroken was Galedo that he found no words to describe the devastation caused by this unlucky Stage 13 performance.

How could he not, Galedo and his team had just lost everything.

Rounding up the top 10 were Oconer (44:03:19), Roadbike’s Marcelo Felipe (44:05:36), Lim (44:07:31), Navy-Standard’s Santy Barnachea (44:09:40), Valenzuela (44:10:27), Reynante (44:14:53) and PLDT-Maynilad’s Ronald Oranza (44:15:44).