MANILA, MAY 15, 2006 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - BAGUIO ó National riders Frederick Feliciano and Santi Barnachea displayed their great mountain-climbing prowess in the Benguet highlands yesterday, gaining podium honors with the green and yellow jerseys, respectively, after the back-breaking third stage of the 2006 Tour Pilipinas Padyak Pinoy to this mountaintop resort.

Feliciano and Barnachea simply outclassed the opposition in the Naguilian and Kennon climbs, winning stage top honors which they later dedicated to their moms on Motherís Day.

The tough route made even tougher by incessant rains didnít stop Feliciano and Barnachea from making their strongest assaults in this Tour thus far with the former topping the stage and the latter placing a strong second to grab the overall individual leadership with the annual summer spectacle about to start its southern swing.

Feliciano, 28, from Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, put into good use riding skills he has mastered as a veteran mountain bike cross-country international campaigner, braving the slippery roads in the Benguet mountains for his fifth stage honors since his Tour debut in 2003.

The 2003 Vietnam SEA Games cross-country silver medallist clocked 5 hours, 19 minutes, 36 seconds in negotiating the 170km run from San Fernando, La Union in the eight-stage Tour presented by Tanduay Rhum and organized by Dynamic Outsource Solutions in cooperation with Wow Magic Sing.

"The Tour top guns are of the same caliber and strength. So our battles just boil down to strategy. It helps in stages like this that Iím used to mountain bike events," said Feliciano in Filipino.

"I have the edge in downhill rides and I just took advantage of it," added Feliciano, who dedicated his stage victory to his mother Zenaida.

Again hit by cramps in the homestretch, Barnachea, 30, from Umingan, Pangasinan, settled for another runner-up victory but it was enough for him to strip Ericson Obosa of the yellow jersey.

"It was really my intention to go for it today. Itís a short Tour and itís better to position yourself in front early," said Barnachea, the 2003 Calabarzon Tour titlist who will enjoy a 27-second lead over Obosa in todayís fourth stage to Angeles City in Pampanga.

At third is Feliciano, 56 seconds behind, then Tomas Martinez (4:59 behind), rookie Irish Valenzuela (5:28), Renato Sembrano (5:30), reigning champion Warren Davadilla (10:24), rookie Harvey Sicam (11:31), Eusebio Quinones (15:28) and Wilfredo Calosa (15:34) to round out the Top 10.

After the Baguio run, the descent to Central Luzon today could be a welcome breather for the field now down to 76 before the remaining riders tackle another mountain-climbing runs in Mabitac, Rizal in the fifth stage, Tatlong Eme in the sixth stage and the now infamous Sungay route connecting Batangas and Cavite in the penultimate stage Thursday.

Though placing only second in the Baguio stage, Barnachea expressed confidence he can hold his own in the remaining mountain stages and have a good shot at the title and the modest P75,000 cash prize that goes with it.

"We know our calibers because we train together in the national team. I faded away only in the last few kilometers due to cramps," said Barnachea.

Erstwhile leader Obosa, who is more of a sprinter, remained upbeat of his own chance despite his slide to second place.

"I tried to ride with the mountain-climbers today and I like what Iíve done. I slowed down only somewhere near the Lionís head (in Kennon) because I got scared of the slippery road there," said Obosa, who came in third in the Burnham Park finish line, 1:20 behind the stage winner.

Davadilla, who conceded the crown to his rivals as early as the second stage, continued to struggle, checking in almost eight minutes off the pace.

Riding according to his plan, Barnachea started strong and flashed ahead of everybody in the first climb to Baguio via Naguilian, towing Elixir Sports third man John Ricafort and pursued by the chase group including Obosa, Feliciano, Martinez and Sembrano.

Wary of fatigue, Barnachea and Ricafort let the chase group catch up as they hit the foot of the Benguet mountains in Tubao. Then the group helped one another in another climb to Baguio via Kennon.

"We took turns in setting the pace until we faded out one after the other, allowing Feliciano do a solo finish," said Barnachea.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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