Tarlac City—The grittier stages are coming up and the character and endurance of the 90 remaining riders are about to be tested.
The riders will be headed to higher altitudes this time around and their resolve to continue will be known, starting in Stage 7 of the LBC Ronda Pilipinas on Thursday at the Tarlac Provincial capital.
This time, participants will head eastward into Baler, the birthplace of surfing in the country.
Ronda leaders Ronald Oranza and the Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance have been through the same situation before as they brace for what the final four stages offer in terms of challenges.
Coach Ronald Gorrantes said they have gone through a time in Ronda when they have lost the overall lead before. This time, they will make sure that they will stay in the thick of the fight until the end.
“Hindi na mauulit iyung ganu’ng situation sa susunod na laban. For now, dedepensa kami. Pero nandu’n pa rin iyung atake,” said Gorrantes.
A well-rested Oranza will go further than what he went through in Stage 6 when he and his teammates try to extend their good fortunes in another long ride, a 174.5-km journey from Tarlac City and into the Baler, Aurora municipal hall.
“Doon kami palaging nagba-bike. Alam namin iyung akyatin. Talagang mahirap. Kailangan all out talaga,” said the 29-year-old Oranza after recovering from his ordeal on Tuesday in Stage 6, a shorter stage at 148.3 km.
Oranza made sure that he won’t be collapsing and cramping up again after doing light workouts, spin training and drinking hydration salts, with some bananas at the team’s hotel.
His Navy teammates will be there for him as they seek to protect whatever advantages that they have gained in the last two stages.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the Navymen and their rivals will be a 628-meter uphill route in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, located at the border of Aurora province.
There’s also the 55.1-km downhill route that riders will tackle after as they make the dash into Baler.
Stage 8 on Friday will take riders to a higher path northward, through a 174.8-km uphill route from Baler to Echague, Isabela, while Stage 9 is 187.6 kms and will go even higher from Santiago City, Isabela and into elevated backroads leading to Baguio City.
“Hindi dapat magpabaya. Hindi pa alam kung ano ang mangyayari,” added Oranza, with an aggregate time of 18 hours, 46 minutes and four seconds ahead of Excellent Noodles’ Jan Paul Morales (18:46:46) and Go For Gold’s Jonel Carcueva (18:49:01) in the overall individual standings.