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Cariño fends off late challenge, wins Le Tour de Filipinas

BAGUIO CITY-Make way for the newest toast of Philippine cycling.

Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance's El Joshua Cariño fulfilled a cherished dream as he seized the 2018 Le Tour de Filipinas in dramatic fashion in front of an appreciative Wednesday afternoon crowd at the Burnham Park here.

Cariño, 25, poured out all of what was left in his tank in the homestretch of the back-breaking 154.65-km trek from Lingayen, Pangasinan, and finished a fighting third behind stage winner Eritrean Metkel Eyob of Terengganu Cycling Team in the decisive final stage of the annual road race co-presented Air21, Cignal and Cargohaus Inc.

But that proved enough as the Mangaldan, Pangasinan native accumulated 12 hours, 25 minutes and 13 seconds to become just the third Filipino to rule the only International Cycling Union-sanctioned road race in the country after 7-Eleven standouts Baler Ravina (2012) and Mark Galedo (2014).

"This is sweet. I can't believe it," beamed Cariño in Tagalog. "In the past I was just watching the foreigners and local riders along Kennon (Road). Now I'm the one being watched by the other cyclists. I still can't believe that I'm the winner."

Cariño, who ruled Stage 3 last Tuesday, had ample reasons to feel so because he had to survive a last-ditch figthback from Eyob, who negotiated the decisive stage in just four hours, five minutes and 52 seconds and appeared on the brink of pulling off a come-from-behind victory.

But Cariño refused to wilt under immense pressure as he tried to make up for lost time once he reached the fabled Lion's Head, some eight kilometers to the finish, where dozens of local fans provided some needed energy.

"My plan was to attack before Lion's Head, because I noticed the foreigners were having trouble there," said Carino, whose 19-year-old brother, Daniel Ven, ran away with the Best Young Rider (under-23) award.

"Even though it was tough, I shrugged it off because a lot of Filipinos were giving me a morale boost."

Carino's teammate, Ronald Oranza finished third overall with a time of 12:27:49 while current national champion Jan Paul Morales came in at fourth overall in 12:28:09 as the Navymen dominated practically on all fronts.

The Navymen had a total clocking of 37 hours, 21 minutes and 41 seconds, more than seven minutes ahead of their 7-Eleven counterparts who wound up second in the race.

That somehow eased some pain they felt after Navy vital cog Junrey Navarra suffered a suspected pelvic injury after being hit by a race marshal in Umingan, Pangasinan, that negated him out of title contention.

Instead of being rattled, the Navymen moved on quick from that sorry incident and still buckled down to work, led by Cariño who also took home the Best Sprinter and Best Filipino Rider honors.

Eyob emerged as the King of the Mountain winner with 27 accumulated points, five more than Oranza, while Cariño's younger brother, Daniel Ven, finished as the Best Young Rider in the 16-team field.

Rounding up the Top 10 were Forca Amskins' John Ebsen (fifth spot, 12:28:45), Galedo (sixth, 12:30:03), Daniel Ven Cariño (seventh, 12:30:35), 7-Eleven Cliqq Roadbike PH's Marcelo Felipe (eighth, 12:32:36), Go for Gold's Ismael Grospe (ninth, 12:31:43) and Pishgaman's Amir Kolahdouzhagh (10th, 12:32:23.)

Tour organizers, meanwhile, lauded Baguio City Maurico Domogan and Major Oliver Panabang, chief PNP Baguio City traffic division, for a smooth traffic flow from the Lion's Head on the way up to the City of Pines. The route to the finish up Kennon Road was lined by more than a hundred uniformed rookie police officers who guaranteed the safety of the riders.