VIGAN, Ilocos Sur – Jan Paul Morales of Navy-Standard Insurance seeks a historic third title as he battles a field headed by former champions Santy Barnachea of Team Franzia and Irish Valenzuela of CCN Superteam when the Ronda Pilipinas 2018 presented by LBC unfolds Saturday here.
The 32-year-old Morales, who reigned supreme in the last two years, has set his sights on a third crown that will put him in the pedestal as the most titled rider in the history of the country’s biggest cycling race.
“I’m not guaranteeing it but I will do my best to win the title again this year,” said Morales in Filipino.
It will not be easy, though, as Morales will be facing a tough field consisting of fellow former champions Barnachea, Valenzuela and George Oconer of Go for Gold.
The 42-year-old Barnachea, the inaugural champion who repeated in 2015, has returned after a two-year absence and should also go for a third crown while Valenzuela, the 2012 winner, is also back after skipping the last two editions.
Oconer, a perennial contender whose best finish was second in 2015, likewise will return after he didn’t see action to train for the Southeast Asian Games last year and should make a serious run for his very first title.
And Morales thinks Oconer will be the biggest thorn to his three-peat bid in this race presented by LBC and supported by MVP Sports Foundation, CCN, Petron, Versa.ph, 3Q Sports Event Management, Inc., Boy Kanin, Franzia, Standard Insurance, Bike Xtreme, SH+, Guerciotti, Prolite, Green Planet, Maynilad, NLEX Cycling, Lightwater, LBC Foundation and PhilCycling.
“Oconer,” said Morales when asked of his most dangerous challenger.
Also expected to challenge for the title are Navy-Standard’s Rudy Roque, who ended up second last year, and Ronald Oranza, Cris Joven of Army-Bicycology, the 2017 third placer, Bike Xtreme’s Jaybop Pagnanawon and Ronnel Hualda of Go for Gold Developmental team.
The 40-kilometer Stage One criterium will unfurl at 8 a.m. will go around cobblestone street of Calle Crisologo and will go around Quezon Avenue, A. Reyes and Delos Reyes streets.
Ronda will proceed with the 155.4km Vigan-Pagudpud Stage Two Sunday, the 223.5km Pagudpud-Tuguegarao Stage Three Monday and the 135.2km Tuguegarao-Isabela Stage Four Tuesday.
The race will take a break on March 7 and will resume with the 179.4km Isabela-Nueva Ecija Stage Five on March 8, 111.8km Nueva Ecija-Tarlac Stage Six on March 9, 31.5km Individual Time Trial Stage Seven and 42.14km Team Time Trial Stage Eight both in Tarlac on March 10 and 11.
The rest of the stages are the 207.2km Silang-Batangas-Tagaytay Stage Nine on March 15, 147.8km Tagaytay-Calaca Stage 10 on March 16, 92.72km Calaca-Calaca Stage 11 on March 17 and the 50km Filinvest Alabang criterium Stage 12 on March 18.