REIMON Lapaza of Butuan City sets out to defend his Ronda Pilipinas 2015 title presented by LBC when the championship round of the grueling bikefest rolls off on Sunday in Paseo Greenfield City in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Lapaza, 29, said he has prepared long and hard for the race in his bid for a back-to-back championships, but considers national rider Mark Galedo the biggest threat to his title-retention bid.
Lapaza beat Galedo last year in stunning come-from-behind fashion.
"There was no pressure last year because everyone was looking at Galedo and the other veteran participants,” said Lapaza. “This year, the pressure is on me because everyone will now be watching me closely.”
Aside from Galedo, Lapaza also mentioned the likes of former champions Irish Valenzuela (2012) and Santy Barnachea (2011) as among the top contenders along with Luzon qualifier topnotcher Ronald Oranza.
Other than trying to retain his title, Lapaza also has one driving motivation as he is dedicating his campaign to his late friend and teammate Vicmar Vicente, who died in a road accident in Davao in May last year.
“He was a close friend and he was a big loss to my team,” said Lapaza of Vicente, who was honored with a posthumous award in the recent Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Annual Awards Night.
Lapaza will join Galedo, Barnachea Valenzuela, the national team, a composite European squad, and some 70-plus riders who made the cut after the rigorous qualifiers in Luzon and Visayas during the championship race.
Other prominent riders vying for the individual top purse of P1 million include 7-Eleven's Boots Ryan Cayubit, the Visayas leg champion, and Ronald Oranza, who topped the Luzon phase.
Of the two, Oranza appeared to be the most notable having nearly swept all the awards and prizes totaling P123,000 after he emerged not only winner of both stages of the Luzon leg but ended up as the King of the Mountain and Sprint King.
And the native of Villasis, Pangasinan felt this could be his year.
“I feel I have a strong chance to win it this year,” said Oranza, a consistent top five finisher who has never landed the big one.
The championship race on Sunday begins with a 60-km criterium that will go around Greenfield City in the morning and a 120.5-km lap from Calamba to the Quezon National Park or Tatlong Eme in Atimonan, Quezon in the afternoon.
From Atimonan, Ronda will roll to Lucena, Antipolo, Malolos, Tarlac, Dagupan, and then Baguio where the final two stages will be held.
The race is presented by LBC and supported by major sponsors the Manny V. Pangilinan Sports Foundation, Petron and Mitsubishi and minor sponors Cannondale, Standard Insurance, Tech1 Corp., Maynilad, NLEX and NLEX Cycling, and sanctioned by PhilCycling under Cavite Congressman Abraham 'Bambol' Tolentino with TV5 and Sports Radio as media partners.