George Oconer of Navy Standard Insurance will shoot for nothing less than a second straight LBC Ronda Pilipinas title as the 11th edition of the 10-stage race unfurls on Friday in Sorsogon City.
“I have a strong chance because we really prepared hard for this Ronda Pilipinas edition,” said the 30-year-old Oconer, who reigned supreme in the last edition of this race two years ago.
Oconer will banner a team skippered by Ronald Oranza and composed of El Joshua Carino, Ronald Lomotos, Junrey Navarra, Jhon Mark Camingao, Esteve Hora, and Jeremy Lizardo.
Oconer admitted though that there would be extra pressure since he would be a marked man following his feat last year.
“There would be added pressure but that’s part of the race,” said Oconer.
Expected to give Oconer a run for his money are two-time champions Santy Barnachea and Jan Paul Morales of Excellent Noodles and the young riders from Go for Gold.
Barnachea and Morales, who have four Ronda titles between themselves, carry with their vast experience and should be the biggest threats to Oconer’s title-retention hopes.
Other teams seeing action are Philippine Army, Team Nueva Ecija, Dreyna, Eagle Cement, Champ Café, Bike Kings Laguna, Vantage Ilocos Norte, VPharma, Team Quezon Province and Team Ilocos Sur.
Up for grabs is a total cash pot worth P3.5 million including P1 million to the individual champion and P200,000 to the team titlist courtesy of LBC Express, Inc., MVP Sports Foundation, Quad X, Twin Cycle Gear, Standard Insurance, Print2Go, Elves Bicycles, Elitewheels, Orome, Maynilad, PhilHydro, and Garmin.
Petron, Boy Kanin, Green Planet Bikeshop, Prolite, Fujiwara, Black Mamba, Lightwater, and LBC Foundation are also backing the event along with PhilCycling and the Games and Amusements Board.
The race opens with the Stage One Individual Time Trial and Team Time Trial both set tomorrow in Sorsogon followed by the 163-kilometer Sorsogon-Legazpi City Stage Three Saturday and the 189.1km Legazpi-Daet Stage Four on Sunday.
It will be followed by the 212km Daet-Lucena Stage Five Monday and 157.4km Lucena-Tagaytay Stage Six Tuesday.
It will take a one-day respite the next day and will wind up with the 180.4km Tarlac-Baler Stage Seven on March 17; 174.4km Baler-Echgue, Isabela Stage Eight on March 18; 193.2km Santiago; Isabela-Baguio Stage Nine on March 19; and Baguio City Stage 10 criterium on March 20.