RAMOS, OF TOUR PILIPINASMarikina City, May 2, 2003 -- Nobody among the Air 21 Tour Pilipinas riders expected a respite on Labor Day. But that's exactly what they got Thursday after a big protest march caused a directional snafu early in the race, forcing Tour officials to make a landmark decision and declare the sixth lap a battle only for lap honors.

"We have no choice. We deemed it to be the best decision that is most fair to everyone," said Race Director Art Cayabyab and Chief Commissaire Renato del Mundo in a press conference following what should have been a 202.6-km grind from Tagaytay to here.

The lap was reduced to a race for the maximum P10,000 lap prize that went to Tanduay's Arnel Quirimit following a finish marked by a controversy that was not limited to a spill among seven riders sprinting like mad at the line.

The news came as a big break for overall leader Merculio Ramos, among those who suffered a spill entering Laguna and was left behind by a group that included Warren Davadilla, third in the top 10.

Ramos goes into Friday's 201.6-km seventh lap from here to Olongapo with his 99-second lead over Placido Valdez and 3:31 margin over Davadilla intact.

"Malaki sana ang tsansa ko na makakuha man lang. Tapos pinatigil ang karera," rued Davadilla.

Also frustrated no end were a six-man group composed of Felix Celeste, Rodelio Valdez, Enrique Domingo, Richard Aquino, Jenky Barrantes and Renato Dolosa who thought they were well ahead of the peloton, only to learn they were going in the wrong direction.

"Bigla kaming pinatigil, tapos pinabalik. Eh mga tatlong kilometro na iyon," related Domingo.

The protesters, who came from different provinces and numbering by the hundreds, caused a traffic jam at a junction in Calamba, 55 kms into the race, where the cyclists should have taken a right to Sta. Rosa proper in Laguna.

But because of the sheer number of protesters and the huge banners they toted, the directional signs posted at the critical juncture were obscured, if not completely covered.

Even the marshal sent to provide directions proved useless, along with the policemen and traffic aides trying to help them, and at least 30 percent of the riders went straight on to Calamba proper.

It took some doing before those who took the wrong route, including some of the Tour vehicles, could be recalled and the whole convoy regrouped.

After a 45-minute meeting among Tour officials, coaches and cyclists' representative Dolosa, it was agreed to re-start the race at Sto. Tomas in Batangas.

It marked the first time that a Tour lap was declared null and void although there were instances of some cyclists losing their way in the past.

"This is unique dahil majority of the race column got lost in the confusion," related Del Mundo.

Quirimit outsprinted partners Paulo Manapol, Reynhard Gorrantes, Albert Primero and Placido Valdez at the finish, but winning what should have been his second straight lap and third overall proved to be the least of his troubles.

The top five finishers' momentum carried them straight to the railing, some 15 meters from the finish line, where the riders must take a hard left to the Rodriguez Sports Complex where they were required to do a victory lap.

Quirimit escaped any injury, but had to contend with some angry co-team captains who felt he reneged on a verbal understanding that they would share the lap prizes among the rest of the 12 teams.

First placer in each lap gets P10,000, second P5,000 and third P3,000.

Quirimit contended he is not interested in the lap prize, but rather on the special plum promised by the team sponsor.

"Maraming hindi nakakaintindi na me espesyal kaming premyo mula Tanduay. Kanila pa rin iyung P10,000," explained Quirimit who also won the first and fifth laps and whose team also topped. (Noli Cortez, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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