By Jerome Lagunzad
ECHAGUE, ISABELA – Navy-Standard Insurance refused to take its foot off the pedal in the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas presented by LBC as back-to-back champion Jan Paul Morales topped the relatively-flat Stage 4 in familiar fashion on Tuesday here.
Instead of taking it easy as initially indicated by LBC Red Jersey holder Ronald Oranza last Monday, the Navymen went out all anew, with Morales, 32, emerging as one of the pacesetters before towing the 13-man lead group at the end of the 135.2-kilometer journey that started in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan.
“Pahinga kami bukas kaya tinodo na namin ngayon,” said Morales who checked in at three hours, seven minutes and 42 seconds, more than a bike length ahead of Go for Gold Elite Team skipper George Oconer and Ronnel Hualda of Go for Gold Developmental Team.
Oranza, 25, came in at fourth overall but did enough to keep the coveted jersey and maintain a comfortable cushion in the individual rankings with an aggregate time of 13 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds, more than five minutes ahead of Morales.
However, underrated Archie Cardaña and climbing specialist Junrey Navara struggled to keep in step with his fellow Navymen and bombed out of the Top 10 rankings, leaving Morales to temper any celebration with his breakthrough stage victory.
“Kailangan namin ilaglag ‘yung mga nasa Top 10 na kalaban kaso may nalalaglag rin sa amin. Naiwan sila sa bantayan,” rued the Calumpang, Marikina City native, with Cardaña and Navara, the current CCN Polka Dot Jersey holder, within hearing distance.
Cardaña’s sorry loss ended up as a big gain for promising Go for Gold Developmental Team rider Jay Lampawog, who joined the bunch finish and jumped from fifth spot to third in the overall rankings with an accumulated time of 13:40:16.
Army-Bicycology skipper Cris Joven, the Stage 3 winner, also sustained his resurgence as the Private First Class Army moved up to fourth spot with an aggregate clocking of 13:40:35, followed by another Navyman, Ronald Lomotos, with 13:40:57.
Team CCN Superteam ace Irish Valenzuela, the 2013 titleholder, also started to make his presence felt as he stayed close to Morales and Co. throughout, enabling him to crack the Top 10 for the first time at sixth overall, barely eight minutes off the pace.
Hualda improved to seventh overall with 13:41:34.