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Oranza vows to give his all in today’s make-or-break lap

By Jerome Lagunzad

SILANG, Cavite – Together with some of his Navy-Standard Insurance teammates, LBC Red Jersey holder Ronald Oranza munched some slices of kalamay, a popular sweet Pinoy delicacy, just outside of their designated room at the Green Papaya Hotel here on Wednesday afternoon.

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Of course, Oranza, 25, is relishing some of the remaining downtime from a three-day respite before he braces himself for what could be the biggest hurdle left on his ambitious bid to put himself into the pantheon of the country’s cycling greats.

“Yung ruta mahaba kaya killer lap talaga,” he said, trying his best to sum up the daunting challenge awaiting him in Thursday’s Stage 9, a brutal 207.2-kilometer trek from the Silang Municipal Hall up to the Tagaytay Convention Center.

Aside from being the second longest stage after the 223.5-km long Stage 3 journey from Pagupdud, Ilocos Norte to Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, the Stage 9 appears to be more daunting since it offers four King of the Mountain challenges, including a Category 3 climb to Kaybiang Tunnel, the country’s longest subterranean road tunnel.

“Bubuhos na ako,” vowed Oranza, who is six minutes and 55 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer, fellow Navyman and reigning back-to-back champion Jan Paul Morales, in the individual rankings of the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas presented by LBC.

“‘Yung Stage 9 na kasi ‘yung pinakamahirap sa mga natitira pang stage. Marami pang ahon bukas kaya dapat timing lang talaga ‘yung pagtira. Kung ma-survive ko man ang Red Jersey bukas, tuluy-tuloy na ‘yun.”

However, Oranza and his fellow Navymen, who are also leading the overall team rankings by a mile with an aggregate clocking of 82 hours, 19 minutes and 52 seconds, still have enough reasons to be wary of a potential ambush ahead.

Go for Gold Developmental Team’s Jay Lampawog, who’s also a Villasis, Pangasinan native like Oranza, is running at third overall with an accumulated clocking of 21:19:31, followed by Army-Bicycology Shop skipper Cris Joven with 21:20:02.

Perennial contender George Oconer of Go for Gold Elite Team (sixth overall, 21:20:51), Go for Gold Developmental Team skipper Ronnel Hualda (seventh, 21:21:29) and 2013 champion Irish Valenzuela of CCN Superteam (ninth, 21:22:04) could also sneak their way up the individual rankings.

Other Navymen in the Top 10 are John Mark Camingao (fifth spot, 21:20:24), last year’s runner-up Rudy Roque (eighth, 21:21:42), and climbing specialist Junrey Navara (10th, 21:22:08).

The next two stages – the 147.8km Tagaytay-Calaca Stage 10 on Friday and the 92.72km Calaca-Calaca Stage 11 on Saturday – could also provide some shakeup before the race ends up with the Stage 12 criterium in Filinvest, Alabang on Sunday.