Morales wins; Leaders steady

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FORMER back-to-back champion Jan Paul Morales leads the pack en route to a third stage win in the LBC – Ronda Pilipinas Sunday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

TIGHT RACE

ROXAS CITY — Former back-to-back champion Jan Paul Morales led a bunch of finishers in the 179.4-kilometer Iloilo City to Roxas City Stage Three of the LBC – Ronda Pilipinas Sunday afternoon here.

Morales’ Stage Three win was not his work alone as the reigning team classification champion Philippine Navy used defending individual classification titlist Ronald Oranza as a decoy

Morales, the Philippine Navy — Standard Insurance skipper, squeaked past the rest in the last 500 meters of a huge 20-man peloton for a razor-thin gap win.

He clocked four hours, 35 minutes and 18 seconds for just a half-bike length triumph against the group of finishers that included Dominic Perez (4:35:18) of 7-Eleven Cliqq — Air 21 Roadbike Philippines and Projo Waseso (4:35:18) of Korail Cycling Team of Korea.

Morales’ Stage Three win was not his work alone as the reigning team classification champion Philippine Navy used defending individual classification titlist Ronald Oranza as a decoy.

Oranza, the yellow jersey owner as the current best Filipino rider in this race, broke away from the large peloton in the last two kilometers, lurking behind the chunk including Tour de Langkawi champion and Terengganu TSG team of Malaysia anchor Artem Ovenchkin.

With all eyes on Oranza and Ovenchkin in front of the peloton, the Navy’s master worked perfectly with Morales sneaking through the left side of the group all the way to the Roxas City Hall finish line.

“Oranza served as our decoy. That’s the plan knowing that a bunch finish is likely due to the unbreakable peloton,” said Morales, the back-to-back Ronda King in 2016 and 2017.

“We trust him that much. Then, he attacked and as soon as the peloton swayed to his side, I was lucky to escape. It’s a huge win especially since it was my first UCI stage (International Cycling Union) triumph.”

Morales and the rest of the bunch finishers were just a chase group for the most parts of the race.

They were behind by over six minutes from the first breakaway group of Navy’s Ronald Lomotos, Team Franzia’s Ryan Tugawin together with Go For Gold’s Jonel Carcueva and George Oconer that seized the front starting at the 20-km mark still in Barotac Nuevo town of Iloilo.

It was not until the last 15 kilometers somewhere in Pontevedra, Capiz where Morales and the chase unit caught the breakaway group, forming a massive peloton to the finish line with him eventually emerging first.

Despite the win, Morales still failed to climb up in the five-stage race leaderboard with an overall time of 12:27:21 for fourth place after three stages.

Team Matrix Powertag bet Francisco Mancebo Perez – who was part of the 20-man group finish in Stage Three – maintained his lead in the overall individual classification category with a total time of 12:22:46 owing to his almost four-minute margin in the 197.6-km Iloilo-Iloilo Stage One last Friday.

Philippine Navy’s Oranza (12:26:38) and 7-Eleven’s Dominic Perez (12:26:41) are at second and third places, respectively, heading into the pivotal stage three of the Asia Tour race sanctioned by the UCI and presented by the LBC Foundation.

Morales’ Stage Three victory also was not enough to tow the Navymen (37:28:37) in front as they remained at the third place of the overall team classification category behind leader Team Matrix Powertag (37:20:07) and 7/11 (37:23:38).

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