Mark Guevarra reigns in the rain after a decisive ride from Cabanatuan to Baguio JOVEN CAGANDE]

APRIL 19, 2009
(STAR) By Joey Villar - Unheralded Mark Guevarra completed what a seasoned tour hand called one of the most dominating performances in years to snatch the yellow jersey in the rain-drenched Stage 5 of the Liquigaz-LPGMA Tour of Luzon that ended in this summer capital yesterday.

With a little help from his friends, Guevarra, 23, bucked a flat tire, slippery roads and the punishing climb in the dreaded mountains of Benguet that slowed down his more illustrious rivals to rule the 172.8-km lap in an amazing feat.

The teary-eyed Guevarra made the sign of the cross as he crossed the finish line in four hours, 45 minutes and 50 seconds before a big crowd that braved the heavy downpour at Lake Drive at Burnham Park.

“I couldn’t help but cry because I didn’t really expect to win,” said Guevarra of Road Bike/7-Eleven, who trained for four months here, in Filipino.

The win, his second in the short seven-stage tour after topping the Tagaytay City-Marikina City Stage Three, catapulted Guevarra from No. 4 to the overall lead after he erased American Vinyl skipper Lloyd Reynante’s 3:39-minute lead. He now has a five-minute advantage over Hilson Mangahis of Batang Tagaytay with an aggregate time of 19:36.45.

Mangahis broke away from the peloton and zoomed past more than 10 riders in the final 20-kms to finish second in the stage, 4.08 minutes behind Guevarra.

Cris Joven of Liquigaz, who was with Guevarra in the final ascent, faded and arrived 15 seconds after Mangahis for a podium finish.

This enabled Mangahis, taking over from faltering team captain Baler Ravina, to jump from No. 7 to No. 2 overall, 5.14 minutes off the solo leader and 35 seconds ahead of Reynante, who dropped to third 6.12 behind.

Reynante, son of 1977 and 1980 Tour ng Pilipinas winner Manuel, succeeded in holding off My Photos skipper Merculio Ramos but paid dearly for letting Guevarra surge as he came in at 14th place or 8.33 minutes behind the stage winner.

Reynante slid to No. 3 overall, 5.37 behind Guevarra while Ramos was at No. 4, 6.12 off the pace.

Guevarra continued to tow his Road Bike/7-Eleven to the overall lead in the team event with an aggregate of 78:47:15.342, or 40:51.743 and 47:25.780 ahead of Batang Tagaytay and Liquigaz, respectively.

Joseph Millanes, Stage One winner Tomas Martinez and team captain Dante Cagas also stood at No. 5 (6.45), No. 8 (9.20) and No. 9 (9.38), respectively, to keep the team in front.

Guevarra, however, needed some help from his teammates to pull it off.

After sustaining a flat tire 110 kilometers out of the neutral zone in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, Guevarra reeled back from the pack but Sherwin Diamsay, who is No. 12 overall (14.50), and Cagas rode back to tow him in.

That enabled Guevarra to get back into the main pack before launching his own attack approaching Umingin, the first town south of Pangasinan.

“They came back for me when I had a flat tire,” said Guevarra referring to Diamsay and Cagas. “Then they guided me through the start of the climb and I took over from there.”

“We didn’t hesitate in riding back to help him (Guevarra) because we made a pact of helping one another,” said Cagas.

Guevarra was joined in by 13 riders, including 2004 Tour champion Ryan Tanguilig of Liquigaz and Joel Calderon of DPT Law before he and Joven, a podium finisher in the Lucena-Tagaytay Stage Two, made their move in Pugo, La Union.

With a little less than 10 kms near the city proper, Guevarra unleashed another furious assault, leaving Joven to snare the stage honor that impressed organizer and race manager Paquito Rivas.

“It was one of the most dominating performances in year. I’ve never seen one like that in my long years in the Tour,” said Rivas.

Guevarra hopes to sustain his form in today’s tough Baguio to Baguio Stage Six-195.6km stage made more difficult by the two climbs graded as hors category or the most difficult of all ascents based on UCI ( International Cycling Federation) standards and make the 60km stage in Macapagal Highway tomorrow his victory lap.

“We’ll defend tomorrow (today) but if I still have some energy left, I may give it another try,” said Guevarra.

Rains poured after Guevarra reached the finish line with heavy fogs blanketing the entire park as the rest of the field, now reduced to 79 riders after three either quit due to injury or didn’t meet the curfew time, made their way.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved