BAGUIO,  April 30, 2004
By Nelson Beltran  —  The STAR carrier Enrique Domingo unraveled the ride of his life on the way up to Baguio yesterday, pumping life back into his championship dream with three stages to go in the Air21 Tour Pilipinas 2004.

As in the Sierra Madre Range six days earlier, Domingo surprised everybody in the Tour entourage, including himself, as the long-time national rider — known as a sprinter and not a mountain-climber — showed uncanny strength and power on the treacherous climb to this mountaintop city.

The 34-year-old Pangasinense checked in 14th at the finish line in Burnham Park, curiously miles ahead of the fancied mountain climbers as he regained the yellow jersey after the 14th of the 17-stage Tour sponsored by Red Bull as the official energy drink, Isuzu, Lactovitale, Pharex, Gatorade, Summit and Elixir Bikeshop.

In another eventful day, Domingo also emerged the virtual sprint champion while his Postmen assistant skipper Lloyd Reynante the virtual King of the Mountain for topping the 214km race from Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Suddenly, Domingo is back in the race for the crown and against time. He was close to abandoning the bid after losing the yellow jersey in Laoag, Ilocos Norte until yesterday’s run.

However, he admitted today’s Baguio-Baguio stage could become a giant obstacle in his championship dream.

"Maraming pwedeng mangyari sa Baguio-Baguio. Lahat sa likod ko malaking threat dahil lahat malakas sa ahon. Basta isisipa ko na lang ang natural na sipa ko," said Domingo, enjoying a lead of six minutes and 27 seconds over the second-running Albert Domingo before flag-off today.

"Kung sakaling akin pa rin ang yellow jersey pagkatapos ng Baguio-Baguio, lagpas 70 percent na ang tsansa na ako na ang panalo. Dahil siguradong dadating ang tulong ng mga kapwa ko Pangasinense at national riders sa last two stages," he added.

But not a few foresee Domingo losing the overall individual lead after today’s killer stage.

"Kung hindi sa akin mapunta iyan, sa iba pero hindi kay Domingo," said Rhyan Tanguilig, the overall leader before leaving the historic Ilocos Sur capital town under early morning sunlight yesterday.

"Siguradong-sigurado iyan," backed Tanguilig’s coach Norberto Oconer, questioning Domingo’s mountain-climbing skill.

Though falling to fifth place 10:07 behind Domingo, Tanguilig still hoped to win the crown and the P200,000 that goes with it. "Hanggang hindi tapos ang karera, may laban pa ako," he said.

A major shakeup in the leaderboard happened after Stage 14 with Joel Calderon moving up from fourth to third, 8:23 off the pace, Reynante (9:40) jumping from 11th to fourth, Santy Barnachea (13:43) from 13th to sixth and Lito Atilano (14:02) from 15th to sixth.

Reynante, Barnachea and Lito Atilano were among those who staged a daring attack a few kilometers from the starting line and helped Domingo pull away from his chief rivals before the climb to Baguio via Marcos Highway.

"Ang laki ng pasasalamat ko sa kasama ko sa breakaway dahil talagang tinulungan nila akong lumayo. Sabi ko sa kanila palitan kami sa trangko at nakipagsuklian naman sila," said Domingo, who was already leading Tanguilig and Primero by nearly 18 minutes in the stage when his group hit the border towns of La Union and Benguet at noontime.

"Hindi ko plinano ito dahil ang balak ko talaga kunin lang ang sprint. Humabol lang ako sa breakaway group at siguro hindi ako napansin ng mga kalaban dahil iba ang suot ko kanina," added Domingo, who wore the purple jersey–symbolic of the sprint race leadership.

Tanguilig said he saw Domingo making his move, and he tried to make his own attack to no avail.

"Ang sama ng kundisyon ko kanina. Masama ang hinga. Nakita ko yong atake ni Henry (Domingo), sinubukan kong sumunod pero hindi ko magawa. Noong naiwan kami sumubok pa rin ako kaya lang walang tumulong sa akin," said Tanguilig, who finished 26th in the race, 17 minutes and two seconds behind the stage winner.

Taking turns in setting the pace, Domingo and his breakaway partners were already 10 minutes ahead of Tanguilig when they hit Bacnotan town, 11:30 in San Juan and 14 in Bauang.

Primero, running No. 2 with a second lead over Domingo before the race, fell over six minutes off the pace as he rode side by side with Tanguilig from the starting line until the Baguio climb beginning in Pugo town of Benguet.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved