The early favorites in last Saturday’s 10th Hell of Marianas Century Cycle Race were too busy keeping an eye on each other that they forgot about Jan Paul Morales.
Morales stunned his competitors and the spectators waiting at the finish line at the Mariana Resort & Spa as he completed the 100-kilometer race around the island first with a time of 3:04:50. He defeated Japanese Makoto Morimoto (3:05:32), fellow Filipino pro Mark John Galedo (3:06:17), Russia’s Alexandr Dorovskikh (3:07:56), 2015 champion Ryutaro Nakamura (3:13:37), triathlete Joseph Miller (3:19:42) and Korea’s Young Jae Lee (4:17:15), Il Jung (5:12:36), and Chulyong Park (6:25:26) in the men’s open division.
Galedo, Nakamura, Morimoto, Dorovskikh, and Morales rode together for the majority of the race with the former on the tail end of the lead pack as he had problems with his bike twice. The first one came early when he hit the back of a car going downhill out of the Suicide Cliff. Morales sustained bruises on his arms and legs, while his front wheel was damaged and had to be replaced. He lost a few minutes due to the accident, while the pacesetters continued to watch each other.
Morales eventually caught up with Galedo and company on their way to Beach Road, but fell behind anew when he encountered problems with his gear set while passing along Airport Road.
“I was only using my third gear after that problem and it was very difficult going uphill,” said the Philippine Navy Standard Insurance biker, adding that despite the troubles with his bike he remained focused.
“I had an even worse accident in my previous race in 2013 when my helmet broke as I had a bad crash downhill in Baguio City. I just stayed focus and tried to catch up with the leaders. I knew that if I would just be behind by a few minutes, I could still chase them down and hopefully get the lead once we are on a flat road,” said Morales, a known sprinter.
Morales’ patience paid off, as he managed to gain the lead on their way out of Kingfisher Golf Links in Achugao and he kept his distance as the bikers headed back to Mariana Resort after going down Capitol Hill.
“I was happy I won in my first race here. It was one tough course because there are a lot of uphill roads and I am not a climber. There are also coral roads so it’s a bit slippery,” the 30-year-old biker said.
Galedo, who debuted, too in last weekend’s event, was also happy for Morales, saying it was a win for the Philippine delegation.
“I could not pull away because the two Japanese (Nakamura and Morimoto) and Dorovskikh were all over me. I was also keeping an eye on them. Fortunately, Jan Paul had a chance to get a good lead in the late part of the race and win it for PH, so I am happy, too,” the former Philippine team member added.
Nakamura admitted sticking close to Galedo and Dorovskikh that he and Morimoto forgot about Morales, especially after the latter had his second bike problem. Nakamura also sustained scratches on his arms and legs after crashing in Marpi. Another former “Hell” winner—Russia’s Konstantin Fast—pulled out in the early part of the race because he was not feeling well, according to Vince Seman, president of the organizing Northern Mariana Islands Cycling Federation.