NAVY STANDARD Insurance team captain Ronald Oranza — ERNIE PENAREDONDO

TARLAC CITY — When Ronald Oranza took over from predecessor Jan Paul Morales as new Navy Standard Insurance team captain, questions were raised if he could balance contending for the title and leading a team to another crown in the 11th LBC Ronda Pilipinas.

But after his tour-de-force Stage Six performance on Tuesday in Tagaytay, Mr. Oranza quashed whatever doubts were left and silenced the doubters.

“Coach (Reinhard Gorrantes) believed in me and that’s all I need to do whatever I need to do, as a teammate and a leader,” said Mr. Oranza, who wears the leader’s red LBC jersey in the 180.4-kilometer Lucena-Baler Stage Seven starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday in front of the provincial capitol.

Mr. Oranza bucked a busted rear tire and cramps to deliver a performance to remember in Stage Six that catapulted him straight to the overall lead in 18 hours, 46 minutes and four seconds.

The 2018 Ronda champion spent Wednesday’s break doing light training and hydration to rest his tired legs in preparation for the final four stages where the remaining 90 of the 104 riders tackle the ascents including the dreaded climb at Baguio’s back door from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya in penultimate Stage Nine on Saturday.

And the proud son of Villasis, Pangasinan knew leads could vanish with just one mistake in the mountains.

“Will do my best to protect the lead, but it’s going to be tough because the last few stages are toughest in Ronda this year,” he said.

Expected to hound Oranza like pack of wolves are Excellent Noodles’ Mr. Morales (18:46:46), Go for Gold’s Jonel Carcueva (18:49:01), Excellent Noodles’ Mervin Corpuz (18:50:51), Navy Standard Insurance’s Jeremy Lizardo (18:52:36), Excellent Noodles’ Mar Francis Sudario (18:55:01), Navy Standard Insurance’s Ronald Lomotos (18:55:04), Go for Gold’s Jericho Jay Lucero (18:55:10) and Daniel Ven Carino (18:56:21), and Navy Standard Insurance’s John Mark Camingao (18:56:45), who all crowd the top 10.

Mr. Oranza will also give it his best to retain the King of the Mountain race lead and help the Navy men remain atop the team race where they have an aggregate time of 53:41:57 ahead of Go for Gold (54:00:28) and Excellent Noodles (54:29:24).

This annual event stakes a P3.5-million cash pot including P1 million to the champion courtesy of LBC Express, Inc., MVP Sports Foundation, Quad X, Smart, Twin Cycle Gear, Standard Insurance, Print2Go, Elves Bicycles, Elitewheels, Orome, Maynilad, PhilHydro, Garmin, Petron, Boy Kanin, Green Planet Bikeshop, Prolite, Fujiwara, Black Mamba Energy Drink, Lightwater, LBC Foundation, PhilCycling, and the Games and Amusements Board.