SOLANO, NUEVA VIZCAYA,  April 24, 2004
By Nelson Beltran Ė Enrique Domingo conquered his own fear of the mountains yesterday, invading his rivalís stronghold in the Sierra Madre Range to remain the man in yellow after Stage 9 of the Air21 Tour Pilipinas 2004.

Domingo kept Ryan Tanguilig within sight all day, clinging on the Aritao town prideís back as they climbed the treacherous Dalton Pass then zigzagged their way down to this Nueva Vizcaya capital town under scorching midday sun.

"Akala nila at akala ko rin hindi ko sila kayang sabayan. Kaya ko pala," said a bewildered Domingo after holding his own against the Tourís mountain-climbing specialists, including the second-running Tanguilig, in the tough ascent to this province.

"Nakadagdag ng kumpiyansa. Sabi nila mahina ako sa ahon. Ngayon tignan natin," added this Star carrier, bouyed up by a fresh flow of support from his bosses in The STAR and in the Army. He has been the yellow jersey holder the last three days now.

Before the Tour left Cabanatuan, the 34-year-old Pangasinense said he drew morale-boost from STAR president Miguel Belmonte and his superiors in the Philippine Army.

"Tumaba ang puso ko, lumakas tuloy ako sa ahunan," said Domingo although he admitted he just floated with Tanguilig and the others in the peloton practically throughout the race. "Ako naman ang pasahero ngayon."

Former titlist Warren Davadilla outsprinted six rivals for stage honors in this Solano finish marred by an accident involving an over-eager fan near the end line.

The unidentified fan accidentally touched a live electrical wire while whooping it up atop a ledge with the main bulk of riders about to check in at the finish line. He fell from the ledge and was quickly rushed to a nearby hospital. The accident caused a 30-minute power outage in the town proper.

Curiously, the tough Stage 9, covering 145 kilometers and serving as the halfway point of the 17-stage Tour sponsored by Red Bull as official energy drink, Pharex, Isuzu, Lactovitale, Gatorade, Summit and Elixir Bikeshop, hardly produced significant changes in the leaderboard.

Only former two-time champion Renato Dolosa lost his spot in the Top 10, yielding it to erstwhile three-stage overall leader Eric Feliciano, who finished third in the day.

"I am grateful that the Tour is going strong at its halfway mark and that the competition has become more colorful and tight," said Bert Lina, chairman of Air21 and Tour Pilipinas Inc. who turned 56 yesterday. "I would consider as the greatest gift on my birthday the warm and enthusiastic response of the Filipinos to the Tour."

Topping one sprint stage before the Dalton Pass climb for a three-second bonus, Domingo stretched his lead to 7:22 over Tanguilig and 9:59 over Joel Calderon.

Next on the leaderboard is Tomas Martinez (11:56), followed by Albert Primero (12:15), Eusebio Quinones (12:43), Merculio Ramos (13:01), Joseph Millanes (14:56), Santy Barnachea (15:50) then Feliciano (16:03).

Ramos, last yearís overall individual runner-up who has won one stage honors in the current tour, celebrated his 26th birthday riding with all the major contenders in the 39-man main group that finished 56 seconds behind the stage winner.

Carlo Guieb, the former back-to-back champion from the nearby Bagabag town, made a bid to be the first man to emerge on the summit of Dalton Pass where thousands of Filipino, American and Japanese soldiers perished in one of the bloodiest battles during World War II.

But Guieb failed, narrowly beaten by Danny Ganigan much to the disappointment of his fans lining both sides of the imaginary King of the Mountain finish line right in the border of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya.

The old Novo Vizcayano warrior slowed down in the downhill ride, fading into the second group towed by his kababayan Tanguilig.

"Sinubukan kong iwanan (si Domingo), pero nakaya niya yung ruta," said Tanguilig.

It was Davadilla, together with Primero, Martinez and Millanes, who succeeded in breaking away from the main pack in the last 20 kilometers. The pint-sized rider from Malabon caught up with the early breakaway group of Feliciano, Benito Stalin and Darwin Marana 10 kilometers to the finish and surged ahead only in the last 300m mark.

"Wala na ako sa overall individual, kaya stage honors na lang ang pinupuntirya ko," said Davadilla, trailing Domingo by almost half an hour.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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