still ahead; Espiritu wins anew
By Chito de la Vega, Philippine daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY (via PLDT)—Victor Espiritu completed his taming of the cool but brutal Cordillera mountain passes with a blazing finish in the individual time trial yesterday which saw seven riders try to pry open Warren Davadilla's tight grip of the overall lead in the 14th stage of the Marlboro Centennial Tour.
Espiritu, who has turned Baguio City into his personal playground since joining the Tour in 1996, clocked an impressive one hour, six minutes and 4.76 seconds over the 27.50 km run from Brgy. Twin Peaks in Kennon Road to here.
The Philippine team skipper now has won four stages this year, including two of the three ''killer'' Baguio stages. In his three-year pro career, Espiritu has won four stages here, highlighted by Baguio-to-Baguio victories Thursday and last year.
He was third in the Vigan-to-Baguio stage Wednesday.
That fiery climb blasted Espiritu up the standings from fifth overall to third overall, overtaking Leonardo Basibas of Southern Luzon and Pangasinan's Gonzalo Espiritu.
Davadilla actually posted the eighth best clocking, but none of those who had better times could come close enough to threaten his coronation as the 39th Tour champion tomorrow.
Santy Barnachea, a promising find from Umingan, Pangasinan, clocked 58.03 behind Espiritu to claim second place, while dethroned titlist Wong Kam Po of Hong Kong was third 2:38.85 off the winner.
Second overall Carlo Guieb had the fourth best time four minutes and 9.63 seconds slower than Espiritu. But the most that effort could do was cut Davadilla's lead of 7:56 to 6:23 while holding on to the No. 2 spot.
Guieb has a shaky 64-second edge over the surging Espiritu.
Arnel Quirimit, the only man who held the overall leader's yellow jersey other than Davadilla this year, could only come in 14th, 7:22 behind Espiritu.
Quirimit dropped to sixth overall from third, eight minutes, 22 seconds off the pace.
Even Quirimit's Philippine team coach Bart Flores noticed the sudden dip in the former overall leader's performance. ''Talagang may-ininda si Arnel, pero hindi nagsasabi. Hindi naman kasi ganyan ang ahon ng batang iyan. Dalawang sunod na araw laspag,'' said Flores. (He is not well but he is not talking.)
Davadilla, who, because of his small size, was virtually swallowed by the crowd that mobbed him, refused to think of a victory speech.
''Hindi pa rin natin masasabi. May bukas pa. Hanggat hindi natatapos ayaw kong mag-isip,'' said Davadilla. (I'm not sure yet of victory. It's not over until it's over.)
He admitted though that he had a hard time sleeping the night before.
With two stages to go, Davadilla has become the richest cyclist with earnings of P241,250. Even before he gets his champion's purse of P500,000 plus his share of the Philippines' half a million-peso team prize, Davadilla has already surpassed his total earnings last year of P136,895.82.
The field was further decimated to 66 riders when Ho Siu Lin of Hong Kong's was disqualified last Thursday for finishing outside cut-off time.
Ho, who was celebrating his 18th birthday that day, refused to ride an ambulance and covered the Baguio-Baguio killer loop in over nine hours.
penultimate stage will start at Agoo, La Union, and end inside the Clark
Economic Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga, a 165.1-km race on flat and smooth