Bikathon over; Victor is king’

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Baler Ravina lost his dentures in the climb through Kennon Road but nonetheless captured the crucial lap as he had promised.

Then, in all his toothless glory, the lap winner proclaimed Victor Espiritu the 2007 Tanduay Padkay Pinoy bikathon king.

The ever-smiling Ravina rode with all his might to win a most-cherished stage in this summer cycling classic, reluctantly settling for the second best thing after he failed to shake off Espiritu all day in the punishing Baguio-to-Baguio eighth stage.

“Tapos na yan. Si Victor na ang champion. (This is over. Victor is the new champion),” said Ravina, whose dentures fell off when he tried to pop open his water jug in front of the landmark Lion’s Head. “Okey na sa akin ito, nakakuha na ako ng lap (I’m satisfied with winning a lap).”

Espiritu checked in a close fourth, sharing Ravina’s winning time of 5 hours, 57 minutes and 55.60 seconds as he retained the yellow jersey of leadership with a 29-second lead over the lap winner after the torturous 195-kilometer trip up-and-down this chilly summer capital.

And that advantage, Ravina stressed, would be enough for Espiritu to win his second Tour title counting the one he won as a rookie in 1996 over such greats as Carlo Guieb, Renato Dolosa and Gerardo Igos.

Ravina actually won out in a photo finish over Santy Barnachea, last year’s champion.

Irish Valenzuela was third and the trio managed to eat up on Espiritu’s overnight lead through the bonus given to the stage winners— 10 seconds for first, six and four, respectively, for the next two.

Espiritu also tried hard to win the crucial stage, but he miscalculated a slippery turn after the final descent heading into the rain-lashed finish at crowded Burnham Park.

“Hindi ko inisip na umatake, binantayan ko lang yung mga dapat kong bantayan kasi lamang naman ako (I didn’t see the need to pad my lead. I just tried to keep my pursuers close),” said the 31-year-old Espiritu.

Barring any major mishaps in the final two stages, Espiritu would become the eighth man to win the fabled summer odyssey on wheels twice after Guieb, Dolosa, the late Jacinto Sicam, Cornelio Padilla, Manuel Reynante, Warren Davadilla and Jose Sumalde.

Sumalde, Padilla, Guieb and Sicam won theirs in rare back-to-back fashion.

The Baguio leg took its toll on three riders, who were all taken to the nearby Baguio General Hospital after suffering injuries.

Sherwin Carrera paid the biggest price and sustained the biggest blow in his bid for a respectable finish.

Winner of the Laoag-to-San Fernando, La Union lap, Carrera rammed into a truck in the final 15 km, his P280,000 bike almost broken in half and his chances of landing a Top 10 finish all but gone. He set out for the day in eighth spot.

Norman Pablo ran over a stray dog at Pugo junction and lost control, while Roberto Rodriguez quit less than an hour into the race.

Valenzuela, last year’s top rookie, remained in third spot, 1:39 behind Espiritu.

Barnachea bumped off Lloyd Reynante from fourth spot, and is now 2:46 behind.

Reynante, the winner of the San Fernando, La Union-to-Baguio lap on Thursday, didn’t have the legs to stage a breakaway like he did the day before. He is now at fifth after he also encountered mechanical trouble in the final 10 kilometers.

The remaining 90 riders descend to Pampanga today for another 195-kilometer ride that concludes at Clark Field in Angeles City. The event winds up tomorrow with an anti-climactic 90-km criterium race along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

By Musong R. Castillo… May 26, 2007