ZAMBOANGA CITY – Ninety-six riders are expected to answer the starting gun on Saturday when the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2013 officially hits the road in this highly-urbanized city in Mindanao.
Defending champion Mark Galedo leads the pack of young and old riders bidding to win the P1 million top purse at stake in the 16-leg, 21-day cycling odyssey.
This early, Galedo of the star-studded Roadbike team, has been installed as the man to watch in the 2,200-km tour considered as one of the longest cycling races in recent memory and among the richest with a total purse of P7.5 million.
Stage 1 starts at the Paseo Del Mar here and ends at the Municipality of Ipil in Sibugay.
“I'm in tip-top shape and ready to race,” said the 27-year-old Galedo, who survived a fierce challenge from Irish Valenzuela of LPGMA-American Vinyl to snare the title last year and the cool P1 million prize that went with it.
The opening lap is expected to be a breeze among the riders as it offers relatively flat but long and winding roads.
“I see a mass finish but there are some riders who may have other plans in mind,” said Galedo, who will be backstopped by Baler Ravina, Ericson Obosa, Jerry Aquino, Ronald Gorrantes, and new acquisitions Ronnel Hualda, Harvey Sicam, and former Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Alfie Catalan.
Bankrolling the event is LBC Express, Inc. with Total, the MVP Sports Foundation, Jinbei Auto, Smart, Icom iDAS, Standard Insurance, Maynilad, and NLEX as supporters and Sun Star as media partner.
Generally, the other two Mindanao stages -- the 139.5km Ipil-Pagadian Stage 2 and the 137.8km Pagadian-Iligan Stage 3 - are practically sprinter-friendly, while stiff battle is expected to be waged in the tough mountain ascents of Cebu, Morong, and the dreaded climb in Baguio City.
Stage 5 in Cebu features a steep climb in the final stretch, so does the Tarlac-Subic Stage 7 through the treacherous Morong gateway, while the Tuguegarao-Solano Stage 13 is the longest lap at 205kms.
The three Baguio legs – the Bayombong-Baguio Stage 14, Pugo-Baguio Stage 15, and the Baguio-Baguio final stage – as usual serves as the killer laps where the likely winner typically emerges.
“In three editions, the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2013 is the definitely the toughest,” said race director Ric Rodriguez.
Interestingly, the cycling tour coincides with three of the country's popular festivals -- the Sinulog in Cebu, the Panagbenga in Baguio, and the Longanisa in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
“This is a perfect time for cycling race that promotes local sports tourism as Ronda Pilipinas will now be part of major local fiestas in the country including the Sinulog in Cebu and Panagbenga in Baguio,” said LBC Express, Inc. president Fernando Araneta.