Iloilo City—Tour de France veteran Francisco Mancebo kept an unnerving steady pace all throughout.
The 42-year-old Mancebo conquered the rough roads and an uphill turn inside Hamtic, Antique and was all by himself when he reached the Festive Walk Mall finish line in five hours, seven minutes and two seconds.
This earned the Spaniard the first stage honors of the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2019, a 197.6-km race which began at the Iloilo City Hall.
Mancebo, who had a seven-year stint in the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005, left everyone behind, including his closest pursuer, Terranganu rider Msrsl-Erdene Batmunkh, and two Filipino rivals Ronald Oranza and Dominic Perez on his return trip to Iloilo.
“I felt so good today, my plan at the start was to stay alone. It’s a good victory. It’s very difficult, I’m so tired, I spent all my power today,” said Mancebo as he endured the afternoon heat and towed Team Matrix of Japan to the top of the team standings.
Team 7-Eleven, behind Perez, and Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance, led by Oranza, were in second and third respectively, in the team classifications.
The no. 1,392 UCI-ranked Mancebo, who said he is not done yet, was three minutes and 52 seconds ahead of second placer Oranza and third-ranked Perez, who arrived at the finish line at the same time.
“No, I’m not done. I need to recover tomorrow,” added Mancebo, who started his career with a first-place finish in the Trofeo Foral de Navarra.
Navyman Jan Paul Morales settled for fourth, 4:32 behind Mancebo, while Matrix rider Junya Sano was fifth.
At the start, Tarlac rider Merculio Ramos went in front in the first kilometer inside Iloilo City, before Mancebo and the 26-year-old Oranza took charge with a 10-man pack as they headed to Tigbauan.
The newly-married Oranza, who is defending his crown under the Navy banner, then caught up with Ramos and stayed with Mancebo in first 45-km mark at the Quiyanan bridge.
“Pagod, hindi namin expect na makapunta kami sa harap. Mahirap ang ruta,” said Oranza, who added that he gets his strength from his wife Maribel’s support.
The strong winds shifted and went against participants. It proved challenging as riders went up the turn in Anini-Iy road at Barangay Iba, and into a pathway that is under construction along a coastal area facing the scenic Panay Gulf.
It tested everyone’s resolve when they headed back to Iloilo. There was a point when Mancebo felt spent, but quickly recovered after getting rehydrated by his support group.
As he continued downhill, Mancebo just held his pace as he exited the province of Antique.
“Si Mancebo, malakas talaga. Kasama namin sa ahon. Pagkalusong, biglang nawala,” added Oranza.
As Mancebo resumed his pace, he and Batmunkh had already left behind 7-Eleven rider Rustom Lim, during a downhill challenge.
Action resumes today with Stage 2, a shorter 101.8-km ride around the island of Guimaras.