MANILA, Philippines -- Conquer the imposing Lingayen-to-Baguio City Stage 12, and you conquer the 2nd Ronda Pilipinas.
Gauging on past major cycling events that have one leg finishing at the top of the country’s summer capital, the critical 96.7-kilometer climb to Baguio is likely to drastically decide the fortunes of the remaining 75 riders in the P7.5-million cycling marathon.
“Definitely, whoever among the top 10 overall riders, most of them mountain climbers, will win this stage has the biggest chance of winning the Ronda Pilipinas,” noted race director Rick Rodriguez Wednesday, a rest day, on the eve of the pivotal leg.
Unlike in the past where most of the previous climbs passed through Kennon, the peloton will travel along the Marcos Highway, now renamed the Aspiras Highway, with one 124-meter Category 4 ascent at 43-km. mark near the Damortis junction along McArthur Highway.
The make-or-break second uphill portion is the 1,444-meter “Hors Category” within Green Valley in Tuba, Benguet, five kilometers from the finish line at Lake Drive in Burnham Park.
The uphill specialists, Rodriguez added, have the decided edge in this stage as they pursue both the individual and team championships, each worth a whopping P1 million, in the bikefest presented by LBC and supported by Total, MVP Sports Foundation, Rudy Project, IcomIdas, DHL and Maynilad.
“Most likely, the Ronda Pilipinas champion will be from these 10 riders,” he said.
The star-studded list of uphill exponents are led by Roadbike Phils. Mark Galedo, who has worn the LBC red jersey -- the symbol of overall leadership -- for the past three stops since placing second behind American Vinyl-LPGA skipper Irish Valenzuela in the uphill run to Antipolo last Sunday.
With a total time of 42:25.50, the 26-year-old Southeast Asian Games silver medallist will have his work cut out for him, considering that he has precarious 16-second lead over second running Harvey Sicam, nephew of the late 1981-82 Marlboro Tour champion Jacinto Sicam.
“Kilala ko ang laro ni Harvey, may-ahon rin siya, pareho kaming mga rookie niyan ni Irish noong 2006,” said Galedo, referring to the Padyok Pinoy Pilipinas won that year by Santy Barnechea.
V-Mobile’s Oscar Rindole, who rose back to third place, is ranked among the best all-rounders out of Nueva Ecija and is just at home in uphill legs.
In fourth is Navy-Standard Insurance’s Lloyd Lucien Reynante, considered one of the craftiest riders and mountain-climber extraordinaire of this competition.
AMV-LPGMA Cris Joven, who also leads the sprint standings, and Valenzuela occupy fifth and sixth places. Another V-Mobile bet, Rey Martin, is in seventh spot, followed by Barnechea, One Tarlac’s Joseph Millanes and RBP’s Baler Ravina rounding up the Magic 10.