BAGUIO, MAY 5, 2008
(STAR) By Joey Villar  – In one fleeting moment, Irish Valenzuela sat on top of the local cycling world as he ruled the punishing 247-km Manila-to-Baguio race dubbed the “Liquigaz Race To The Lion’s Head” which fired off at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City and ended at the Burnham Park here yesterday.

Flashing his skills on flat roads and mountain climbing, the 21-year-old Valenzuela bested some of the country’s finest riders to dominate the one-leg race that used to be a multi-stage tour if not for a last-minute decision to scrap the Padyak Pinoy.

“This is really my dream, to win a cycling event as big as this,” said a teary-eyed Valenzuela, who raised his hands and did the sign of the cross as he approached the finish line unopposed, in Filipino.

Valenzuela, the Tabaco, Albay native who placed third in last year’s Padyak Pinoy, came out slightly ahead of a small pack in the early stages of the event, slowly built his lead midway before pouring it all out in the final 15 kms of the dreaded Kennon Road climb to post a 250-meter lead over his closes pursuers.

When the Kamias, Quezon City-based rider reached the finish line before hundreds of weekend spectators at the busy Lake Drive, he clocked six hours, 47 minutes and 57 seconds.

So dominating was Valenzuela, who skippered Team 3, that his chief rival for top honors –teammate Renier Clauna – came in a minute and 33 seconds later while Joel Calderon of Team 12 was 1.46 minutes off the pace.

Clauna clocked 6:49.30 while Calderon checked in at 6:49.43 to finish second and third places, respectively.

The pair of impressive finishes by Valenzuela, the top rookie in 2006, and Clauna powered Team 3 to the team championship after it assembled a combined time of 27 hours, 30 minutes , 56.88 seconds, beating Team 7’s 28:26:38.14 and Team 11’s 28:29:34.36.

To cap his day-long brilliance, Valenzuela claimed the King of the Mountain crown in the race that passed through Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan and then finally the City of Pines.

Valenzuela thus pocketed the top individual purse of P10,000, plus P5,000 from being the KOM and a share from the team championship prize amounting to P75,000 courtesy of Dutch-based Liquigaz, locally distributed here by the Liquified Petroleum Gas Marketers’ Association (LPGMA).

Joseph Millanes was one of the riders who kept Valenzuela in sight going into the final 38-km ascent. But the Team I bet failed to sustain Valenzuela’s pace and faded out in the end.

Millanes, however, consoled himself by becoming the race’s Sprint King, earning him a P5,000 prize.

Dante Cagas of Team 6 finished fourth in 6:51:06 while Tomas Martinez of Team 9 clocked 6:52:36 for fifth.

Rounding up the Top 10 were Millanes (6:53.06), Team 9’s Renato Sambrano (6:55.08), Team 3’s Edward Nardo (6:55.20), Team 12’s Ericson Obosa (6:57.10) and veteran Team 7 captain Merculio Ramos (6:57.35).

Valenzuela’s win came a few months after he powered the RP team to victory in the tough Tour of Thailand. He was the best Filipino performer there after he finished third overall.

“Maybe because I trained hard whenever there’s an event, I keep my focus on winning and not just perform well,” said Valenzuela.

None of the big guns though came close to challenging Valenzuela, who placed fourth in the road race in last year’s Southeast Asian Games in Thailand.

Baler Ravena struggled in joint 12th, 13.48 minutes behind the winner.

Former tour champion Arnel Quirimit wound up 17th in 7:07.53 despite competing with a hurting left shoulder while last year’s Tour champion and KOM Victor Espiritu fared even worse after he checked in at 20th place in 7:10.31.

Espiritu, a SEAG gold medalist in Thailand who is a heavy favorite to win here, silently vanished after the race, leaving media men and race organizers clueless as to his whereabouts.

A total of 118 riders divided into 12 teams competed in the event organized by the Philippine National Cycling Association headed by Paquito Rivas, himself a former two-time Eagle of the Mountain winner in the 70s.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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