Enrique DomingoOlongapo City, May 3, 2003 -- Enrique Domingo finally completed what he had started since Day One of the Air 21 Tour Pilipinas 2003 Friday as overall leader Merculio Ramos started feeling the leaden weight of the yellow jersey.

Domingo, who has made repeated breakaway bids since last Saturday when the Tour started in Legazpi City, conspired with Bernard Luzon in another escape early in the Marikina-to-Olongapo run and the two rode as one for the next 200 kilometers.

The duo's gargantuan efforts took its toll mostly on Luzon, who could hardly keep pace with Domingo in the final 1,000 meters, enabling the Postmen captain to surge ahead and notch his first victory in the 15-lap saga spread over 18 days.

"Talagang nag-usap kami ni Bernard na magtulungan. Masyado kasi kaming mababa sa standings," said Domingo, seemingly none the worse for wear after the strength-sapping run that took the riders through Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bataan under the scorching heat of the summer sun.

Domingo registered a winning time of four hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds, a full eight seconds ahead of Luzon, the Patrol 117 skipper, who was content enough just to cross the finish line.

"Mga 140 kms na kaming tumatakbo, nag-usap na kami kung petik-petik na lang. Kaya lang, naisip rin naming masasayang lang ang pinaghirapan namin," said Luzon. "Isa pa, rest day naman bukas (Saturday) kaya binuno na namin."

The Tour takes its lone break Saturday before resuming with the event's longest lap, a 247.6-km grind from here to Dagupan on Sunday.

Ramos had the same respite on his mind, forcing him to exert efforts far more than what his tired and bruised body wanted to.

He suffered scrapes and bruises on his right arm and pelvic area following a spill at Biņan before Thursday's sixth lap was declared null and void. He went into Friday's race with a slight fever and breathing difficulties.

But Ramos was forced to re-think his plans of just coasting along when his closest pursuers repeatedly tried to peel away from the main group.

The 24-year-old rice farmer's son from Batang Batang, Tarlac City, even managed to join those who broke off from their pack and shoot home with the fifth wave. Those who got left behind included erstwhile second-running Placido Valdez and Warren Davadilla.

As a result, the Samsung team captain found himself with a new close threat in Tanduay counterpart Arnel Quirimit, who led a determined chase for the lead pack but could only finish third for the day.

Still, Ramos was comfortable with his two-minute, 41-second lead over Quirimit than the 1:39 he toted over Valdez since he started wearing the yellow jersey after the fourth lap.

Valdez, who simply had no steam left to chase Ramos, wound up with the seventh group and dropped to third overall.

Worse off was Davadilla, who suffered a flat tire outside Bacolor and crossed home with the 15th group, more than six minutes behind Ramos' bunch. He slipped to seventh from third.

Despite a spill due to a drunk spectator who accosted him on the final descent to this city, Renato Dolosa still stuck with Ramos' group and moved into the magic circle for the first time. The '92 and '95 titlist now lies at 10th from 12th.

Other minor changes within the top 10 saw Luzon moving up to fourth from fifth, followed by Domingo who started the day at seventh. Pagcor's Rhyan Tanguilig climbed to sixth, teammate Lloyd Reynante slid to eighth from sixth and Drug Busters' Frederick Feliciano vaulted to ninth from 13th.

The lap had another casualty in one of the motorcycle escorts. Conrado Benitez took a spill while trying to avoid a collision with another motorcycle-riding man while the Tour entourage was entering San Jose del Monte.

Benitez, a policeman, managed to swerve his bike at the last minute but sustained a fractured knee and was rushed to the National Orthopedic Hospital. (By NOLI CORTEZ, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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