Peréz checks home alone

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FRANCISCO Mancebo Peréz of Matrix takes it easy en route to the finish line on his own at the start of the Ronda Pilipinas 2019 on Friday in Iloilo City. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

ILOILO CITY — Tour de France veteran Francisco Mancebo Peréz dominated the grueling 197.6 kilometer Stage One of the LBC — Ronda Pilipinas 2019 Friday afternoon here.

I expected maybe 15 riders into the finish line but alone? No, I didn’t see it coming.

Representing Team Matrix Powertag of Japan, the 42-year old Spanish rider clocked five hours, seven minutes and two seconds to rule the longest lap of the five-stage race.

He upstaged defending champion Ronald Oranza of Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance (5:10:54) and Dominic Perez of 7/11 Cliqq — Air21 Roadbike (5:10:54) who came in at second and third places, respectively.

Peréz, a top-five finisher in the prestigious Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 2005, was part of the early 10-man breakaway group in the first 10 kilometers of the race from the starting line in Iloilo City Hall.

His expertise as a climber powered Peréz, along with Terrengganu bet Msrsl-Erdene Batmunkh, as they broke away from the peloton entering the uphill Antique Province in the 50-km mark.

The two pedaled together for almost 40 kilometers before Batmunkh lost steam due to cramps, surrendering the driver’s seat to Peréz in the last 100 kilometers.

Peréz never looked back from there until the finish line at the Megaworld Boulevard in Iloilo City for the Stage One victory.

“I’m surprised. I expected maybe 15 riders into the finish line but alone? No, I didn’t see it coming,” said Peréz, the Spanish National Champion in 2004.

“Nevertheless, I’m so happy. I’m now 42 so I don’t remember my last win. I’m surprised but I’m so happy with this victory.”

Meanwhile, former two-time Ronda champion Jan Paul Morales (5:11:34) of Philippine Navy and Junya Sano (5:11:42) of Team Matrix Powertag also made the top five.

Completing the top 10 of the 90- man field were Joo Daeyeong of Team Korail of Korea, Irish Valenzela of 7/11, Mark Julius Bordeos of Philippine Army Bicycology, Rustom Lim of 7/11 and Ismael Grospe of Go For Gold.

With the top-five finish of Peréz and Sano, Team Matrix Powertag of Japan seized the lead in the Team Classification category over 14 local and foreign teams with a total time of 15:32:16 followed by 7/11 (15:35:23) and Philippine Navy (15:36:13).

“I spent all my power today. Maybe I don’t have power for the next stages. Let’s see,” said the Madrid-native Peréz.

“I expect a comeback from other riders. They didn’t work together yet,” he said.

Stage Two will feature a shorter 101.8-kilometer route from Guimaras and back today, followed by a 179.4km Iloilo-Roxas City Stage Three tomorrow and 146.9km Roxas-Roxas Stage Four on Sunday.

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