George Oconer back to challenge for Ronda title after skipping last year's race

GEORGE Oconer is set to see action in the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas after missing last year’s race to focus on the national team’s Southeast Asian Games stint.

The 26-year-old Oconer heads a Go for Gold squad that he believes can challenge Navy Standard Insurance for the team title.

“I’m happy to be competing again in Ronda and I’m focused on winning it this year,” said Oconer, who finished second to Santy Barnaches in 2015.

This year’s race starts in Vigan on March 3 and will end on March 18 in Alabang.

Oconer is hoping to join Ronda winners Morales (2015 and 2016), Barnachea (2011, 2015), Irish Valenzuela (2012), Mark Galedo (2013) and Reimon Lapaza (2014).

Oconer, son of two-time Olympian Norberto, will be backed by Boots Ryan Cayubit, John Renee Mier, Jerry Aquino, Jr, Elmer Navarro, Orlie Villanueva, Arjay Arbastro and Jonel Carcueva.

Carcueva, a 22-year-old rider from Minganilla in Cebu, finished 12th overall last year and was second to Navy’s Junrey Navarra in the second of the two-leg qualifying for this year’s race.

“He’s talented, strong and fearless, he will be a big part of our campaign,” said Oconer.

Stage One of the race offering a top prize of P1 million is a 40-kilometer criterium followed by a 155.4-km race from Vigan to Pagudpud the next day.

The third stage is a 223.5-km Pagudpud to Tuguegarao race on March 5 followed by the 135.2-km Tuguegarao-Isabela Stage Four on March 6.

The 179.4-km Isabela-Nueva Ecija Stage Five is set on March 8, followed by the 111.8-km Nueva Ecija-Tarlac stage on March 9.

Tarlac hosts the 31.5-km Individual Time Trial on March 10 and the 42.14-km Team Time Trial the next day.

Stage Nine is a 207.2km Silang-Tagaytay race on March 15, with the 147.8-km Tagaytay-Calaca race set the next day followed by the 92.72-km Calaca-Calaca Stage 11.

The race ends with the 50km Filinvest Alabang criterium on March 18.

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Army-Bictcology Shop, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Sur, Go for Gold Developmental team, South Luzon and Tarlac Province are the other teams in the 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.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @spinph