GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Given the intensive preparations by the competing teams, the 2nd LBC Ronda Pilipinas looms as a wide-open contest for supremacy in the country’s longest and most challenging cycling marathon hitting the road on Wednesday.
To a man, riders, coaches and race officials on Tuesday agreed that team and individual competition would be keen in the multi-stage spectacle hitting the road on Wednesday with the first leg, a short and flat 20.6-kilometer team trial in neighboring Sarangani province.
“Lahat ng teams ensayado, praktisado kaya mahirap sabihin kung sino ang mananalo,” reigning individual champion Santy Barnachea, who will racing under the colors of Philippine Navy-Standard, noted. “Mas mahigpit ngayon ang kumpetisyon dahil lahat ng teams matindi ang training.”
Teammate Lloyd Lucien Reynante shared Barnachea’s opinion, underscoring the fact that majority of the 16 sponsored teams had extensively trained for the P7-million multi-stage bikefest sponsored by LBC and backed by Total, MVP Sports Foundation, Icom Idas and Rudy Project.
“Mahirap talagang sabihin ngayon kung sino ang siklista at team na mananalo kasi nag-buhos ang mga sponsors para maihanda ang mga siklista,” said Reynante, runner-up in the 2010 Le Tour de Filipinas, who disclosed that his own squad had been training since January in Pangasinan and Baguio City.
“Lahat ng malalakas na riders ngayon kinalat at hindi lang nasa isang team,” he added.
With tried and test veterans Eusebio and Eric Feliciano as their teammates, Reynante said he and Barnachea were optimistic about the Seamen’s chances in the 16-leg, 20-day summer sports spectacle.
When asked who among the riders posed the biggest challenge in his retaining the individual crown, Barnachea quipped: “Yan, si Reynante, matigas yan. Pero puwede rin si Joel (Calderon, last year’s Ronda runner-up) o si Baler Ravina, na nanalo ng Le Tour.”
Renato Dolosa, coach of last year’s team overall champion American Vinyl-LPGMA, likewise cited the balanced field “kaya mahirap sabihin kung sino ang malakas na team at hindi. Hindi ka rin segurado kung sino ang aangat na siklista sa individual competition.”
“Medyo ang malalakas diyan ang Philippine Navy-Standard at Roadbike Philippines,” said Dolosa, the 1992 Marlboro Tour champion, whose own squad is spearheaded by versatile veteran Irish Valenzuela and Asian junior championship bronze medalist Rustom Lim.
He said the long third stage, a 227-km. grind from Tagum City to Butuan City on Saturday, as a critical leg that could separate the serious opposition from the also-rans in the early stages of the race.
Roadbike Philippines team manager Bong Sual tipped American Vinyl-LPGMA and PN-Standard considered among the favorites in the event “but they also should watch out for us since we have noted climbers like Ravina and Mark Galedo, who won two silvers in the last Southeast Asian Games.”
Ericson Obosa, who topped the 7-Eleven Tour 700 pro race more than a week ago, completes the terrific Roadbike troika with Ravina and Galedo who are expected to challenge the other Ronda Pilipinas top guns.
Malaysian commissar Jamaluddin Mahmoud said he could also sense the competitiveness of all the 16 squads. “I expect a very tough race with no clear cut favorite.”
“Every teams seems to have trained very hard for this second edition of the Ronda,” added Mahmoud, who used to be the organizer of the Malaysia’s famous Tour of Langkawi, the biggest annual road race in Asia.
Race director Rick Rodriguez, who is mainly responsible for plotting the over 2000-kilometer course, said the LBC Ronda was designed to level the playing field so that other riders would be able to catch up with the leaders.
“And with four additional laps, this is a very tough course even without the so-called Baguio-to-Baguio killer stage.”
“This race just does not requires strength and skill but you also have to use this,” said Rodriguez, pointing to his head.
“We crafted this course so that it will be anybody’s race up to the last stage,” he said.
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