Baguio City, May 9, 2003
--  Placido Valdez used the mountains of Benguet
to bury his heartaches of the past while Arnel Quirimit had the same peaks
rising 1,500-m above sea level to thank for as he moved closer to cycling

After a long, long while, Valdez finally posted his first win in a massed
start race by topping the 12th lap Thursday while Quirimit wrested back the
coveted overall lead in the Air 21 Tour Pilipinas 2003.

Valdez stuck with the lead pack from the very start of the 160.6-km "killer
lap" that took the riders through two lung-busting climbs to the Pines City
and soloed it home in the final 130 kms., not bad for a rider who is
considered "old" at 33.

In the process, he made up for some memorable failures in the past that are
still fresh in people's minds. He got off his bike in the face of a steep
incline in 1994 and blew a 13-minute lead he built up after the first climb
in 1997.

Quirimit, 27, would not be denied a share of the limelight.

He yanked back the overall lead from Enrique Domingo twice for the day, the
first when he led the Postmen skipper by almost three minutes on the first
climb via Naguilian and the second after checking in with a three-man third
group five minutes and eight seconds after Valdez.

The finish enabled Quirimit, skipper of the Tanduay team, to raze a two
minute, nine second-deficit at the start of the day and post a 1:42 lead
over Pagcor counterpart Rhyan Tanguilig, who vaulted to second from fourth
overall after finishing sixth.

Domingo checked in all alone at 19th, more than 10 minutes behind Quirimit,
and was relegated to fifth.

"Talagang hindi nakayanan," Domingo simply said.

Quirimit said that barring any major trouble his lead over Tanguilig and at
least a three minute-cushion over the next contenders should be enough to
give him his first Tour title.

"Kaya ko ng alagaan ang lamang ko, ngayon pang nako-kondisyon na ako," he
said, adding he would even try to pad his cushion in Friday's 36-km
individual time trial from Rosario to here.

"Talagang 'di ko na ibibigay ito. Naniniwala akong talagang sa akin na ito
(title)," said Quirimit, who stuck with the third group that included most
of the other big guns for 120 kms of the way before joining the chase for
eventual second placer Danny Ganigan of Samsung.

Valdez said the victory was enough to erase the bitter memories of his past
failures in the same stage.

"Halos puro sama lang ng loob ako dito," said the Cabanatuan City native,
who won an individual time trial race before but never in any two climbs to
the Burnham Park finish.

He claimed his first lap victory this year could have come a day earlier,
if not for a P12,000 handlebar that snapped into two in the first five kms
of Wednesday's Laoag-to-San Fernando, La Union 11th lap.

"Ipinangako ko talaga sa sarili kong kukuha ako ng lap. Nakakahiya na kasi
sa mga fans. Panay ang text sa akin kung kasali pa raw ako," said Valdez,
who started the day at 20th and ended up moving to 17th.

The Drug Busters team captain left little doubt he would figure in lap
honors from the very start, joining Samsung's Dominador Tacu-Tacu and VAT
Riders' Sherwin Diamsay in an early breakaway.

After his companions faded one after the other as they reached Burgos town,
Valdez kept pedalling by his lonesome, building up a lead that stretched to
as much as seven minutes on the descent down Marcos Highway. (By NOLI
CORTEZ, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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