BAGUIO, MAY 25, 2007
(MALAYA) BY ALDRIN QUINTO - Former Kings of the Mountain Victor Espiritu and Lloyd Lucien Reynante audaciously made separate solo moves and reaped huge dividends Thursday, the former regaining the overall lead and the latter taking stage honors in Stage 7 of the Padyak Pinoy 2007 here.

Air21 skipper Reynante, out of the top 10 since Stage 3, broke away from the pack with 15 tough kilometers of ascent looming ahead while Espiritu, Wow Magic Sing team captain, peeled away from an uncooperative chase group to catch the former in the final 10 kilometers. They crossed the finish line in two hours, 30 minutes and 32.93 seconds, just half-a-bike length apart.

Caltex co-captain Sherwin Carrera, winner of the previous stage from Laoag to San Fernando, finished over a minute and three seconds later to grab third place.

Reynante, King of the Mountain and second overall in the 2004 Tour Pilipinas, finally hogged the limelight after lurking behind the leaders in the flat stages of the race, showing his strength in the energy-sapping 79-kilometer trek from San Fernando, La Union to the City of Pines through Marcos Highway. As a reward, he moved up to fourth overall.

The Seaman 2nd Class, who was forced to skip the Tour for two years while competing with a Trade Team, had suffered a big gash on his right leg in a spill during a bunched sprint finish in Stage 2 from Quezon City to Cabanatuan.

"Nung mga unang araw kasi naapektuhan ako ng sugat ko. At hindi ko kasi forte ‘yung patag," said Reynante. "Medyo forte natin ‘yung ahon kaya ngayong nandito na ‘yung karera, alam ko dapat kumain na ako ng malaki sa oras. ‘Yung ahon, dun kasi ako medyo nakakalamang sa kanila."

Espiritu, back-to-back King of the Mountain in 1997 and 1998, turned up behind Reynante with the finish line in sight but not after struggling against a stubborn pack that only wanted to ride in his slipstream.

The 31-year-old Espiritu matched strides with the main group at the base of the ascent passing the Eagle of the North statue in Agoo, La Union, before trying to give chase to an early break with just over 30 kilometers into the race.

A few riders followed but refused to help keep up the pace. Espiritu was particularly irked with Carerra, also a former Trade Team rider who ignored the former’s appeals to help carry the cudgels.

"Sila ang magbebenefit tapos ako ang nago-groggy. Sinisigawan ko, pumalit naman kayo. Ang lakas tumutok," said Espiritu. "Ginawan ko na lang ng paraan. Nung may chance, atake na ako."

"Nang si Lloyd ang umatake, walang humabol, pinakawalan. Sabi ko, okey lang, ako na lang ang didiskarte mamaya," he added. "Hindi ko rin akalain na aabutin ko si Reynante, malakas umahon yun."

Espiritu, who held the yellow jersey in Stages 3 and 4, will have a 39.9- second lead over erstwhile leader Baler Ravina and 1:43.4 over last year’s top rookie Irish Valenzuela of Cossack Vodka going into the dreaded figure-8 Baguio to Baguio stage on Friday that could finally decide who will be crowned this year’s Chosen Son of Summer.

Ravina and Valenzuela logged identical times of 2:34:03.42 for the stage, 3:30 behind Reynante, who stood 1:46.9 off the pace in the event presented by Tanduay in cooperation with Wow Magic Sing and Air21.

Espiritu, however, is wary of wearing the yellow jersey anew.

"Mahirap kumilos kapag naka-dilaw. Nakikita ko si Baler, hirap na hirap," he said.

Ravina and Arnel Quirimit, both feeling ill, slipped down the standings but vowed to try and steal the show in the next stage.

"Wala ako sa kundisyon. Parang naubusan kasi binabantayan din ako," said Ravina, who struggled with a worsening cough. He had wanted to attack but was kept in check by the rest.

Disturbed by pain in his thigh, Quirimit slid further downs the rankings from fifth to ninth and will start Stage 8 staring at a deficit of over seven minutes in the race supported by Champion, Mail and More, Bacchus, Cossack Vodka, Vellum Cycles, Cargohaus Global Warehouse Services, Caltex, U-Freight Forwarders, Sogo Hotel and SM Supermalls.

Last year’s winner, Santy Barnacha, skipper of Team Champion, finished just 2:36 behind the stage winner and moved to fifth in the overall classification followed by Cossack skipper Renato Sembrano, U-Freight team leader Merculio Ramos, Carrera, Quirimit and Caltex team captain Joel Calderon

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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