VIGAN, Ilocos Sur - Jan Paul Morales of Navy-Standard Insurance sets out to win the title for the second straight year while Cris Joven of Army-Kinetix Lab and Jaybop Pagnanawon of Bike Extreme look to challenge the throne as the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2017 edition unfurls Saturday in the 158-kilometer Stage One that starts and ends in front of the Provincial Capitol here.
The 31-year-old Morales topped two of the three legs last year to emerge the overall champion and should be the rider to watch in this 14-stage race that drew participation from a total of 96 cyclists spread out to 12 different teams.
"If I can race intelligently, I know I have a strong chance of winning it this year," said Morales, a native of Calumpang, Marikina, in Filipino.
Morales will be backed up by fellow Navymen team captain Lloyd Lucien Reynante, 2009 Tour champion Joel Calderon, Rudy Roque, Ronald Lomotos, Jay Lampawog, Daniel Ven Carino and Archie Cardana.
However, Pagnanawon, son of 1986 Tour king Rolando, and Joven, a consistent top finisher from Iriga, Camairnes Sur, are expected to go all out to win the crown and prevent Morales from reigning supreme for another year.
"It's my dream to win in Ronda because I want to win a race like my father," said Pagnanawon, who finished second in the Bacolod qualifying race in December last year.
"I will do my best," said the 31-year-old Joven.
Pagnanawon will be backstopped by brother Junvie and cousin Jetley and Mark Julius Bonzo, whose father Romeo and uncle Modesto are former Tour champions themselves.
For Joven, he will bring in an equally able team composed of skipper Alfie Catalan, Alvin Benosa, Mark Julius Bordeos, Lord Anthony del Rosario, Ronnilan Quita, Marvin Tapic and Reynaldo Navarro.
Stage One will start at the heart of Vigan at 8 a.m., goes to Laoag and will pass by the famous Paoay Church before returning to Vigan.
LBC Ronda project director Moe Chulani said Stage One will be dedicated to Ronda chief judge Atty. Froilan Dayco's father Francisco, who passed away recently.
A top purse worth P1 million awaits the champion courtesy of presentor LBC and in partnership with MVP Sports Foundation, Petron, Mitsubishi, Versa.ph, Partas, Maynilad, Standard Insurance, CCN, Bike Xtreme, NLEX, PhilCycling and 3Q Sports Event Management.
The other teams seeing action are Ilocus Sur, Mindanao Sultan Kudarat, Iloilo, NCR RC Cola, Tarlac, Neopolitan, South Luzon and Zambales.
The main race will continue with the Stage Two criterium in Vigan and will thread through Angeles (Feb. 8), Subic (Feb. 9), Lucena, Quezon (Feb. 12), Pili, Camarines Norte (Feb. 14 and 16), Daet (Feb. 17), Paseo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (Feb. 19), Tagaytay and Batangas (Feb. 20), Calamba and Antipolo (Feb. 21) before wrapping up with a pair of stages in Iloilo City (March 2, 3 and 4).