BUTUAN CITY - After a few tense moments, the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2016 kicks off with the staging of the Mindanao Leg on Saturday morning beginnning with a 158.32-kilometer that starts and ends infront of the Butuan City Hall.
Just a day after announcing that he and his team will forego participation in the race set in his hometown, 2014 Ronda champion Riemon Lapaza and the rest of the 15-man Cycle-Line Butuan team decided to take part in the event hosted by Mayor Ferdinand Amante.
Lapaza competed in a small cycling race in Zamboanga, raising fears that they will skip the rich Ronda event and leaving organizers in panic.
"That was ridiculous. The pot money here in Ronda is almost one million, then they joined a race far far away that will only award them five thousand pesos?" said Ronda chief judge Froi Dayco.
"I don't know if it was politically motivated to shame the mayor. Kasi what's the logic of turning your back on a tournament that will be staged in your own backyard to join a race in Zamboanga for five thousand pesos," he added.
At the last minute, Amante, who was initially unaware of the planned 'Ronda boycott,' prevailed upon the team to compete in the Ronda race.
"I already called them and told them to participate. This is an event that will put Butuan back on the map of Philippine cycling. We failed to host this last year, now they intend to do that?" said the mayor from the popular Amante political clan.
"So I told them: 'Help me save the image of Butuan in the cycling community, come back here.' They assured me they'll be back in Butuan by 1 a.m.," he added. "We're here to support not just our Butuan City riders like Lapaza but also LBC Ronda Pilipinas as a whole."
Lapaza and his Cycleline team confirmed months ago that they will join the race but surprisingly declared they'll skip the event on Thursday night.
The pintsized rider should be an important figure in the race as this will serve as his first high level race since making a name for himself by ruling the Ronda two years ago, winning a cool P1 million.
Meanwhile, top riders from perennial team champion Philippine Navy Standard, headed by captain Lloyd Lucien Reynante, Joel Calderon, Ronald Oranza and Jan Paul Morales, are already pumped up to dominate the Mindanao leg.
"Matagal naming pinaghandaan itong LBC Ronda Pilipinas," said Reynante who will be one of the marked men in this race, presented by LBC and LBC Express, sanctioned by PhilCycling and sponsored by Manny V. Pangilinan Sports Foundation, Petron and Versa Radio-Tech 1 Corp. with Maynilad and NLEX as minor sponsors.
LBC Sports Development head and Ronda project director Moe Chulani, for his part, was happy with the development.
"We're expecting a very exciting race with Lapaza expected to make Butuan City proud. This is for them and for the development of local cycling," said Chulani, whose LBC and MVP Sports Foundation teams took part in the ongoing Le Tour de Filipinas.
Also participating is Ranlean Maglantay, a native of Marbel, South Cotabato who is the youngest entry at 18 years old.
Maglantay, whose father Randy is a motor mechanic, will vie not just for top purse worth P50,000 for the LBC leg champion but also the P25,000 prize given to the Petron Local Hero plum.
"I'm thankful to LBC Ronda Pilipinas for giving me the opportunity to compete," said the shy Maglantay in Filipino.
Butuan will also host Stage Two, a criterium before the race proceeds to Cagayan de Oro for Stage Three, another criterium, on Tuesday.
Ronda will move to the scenic Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich next for the individual time trial Stage 4 on Thursday before ending with the Stage Five criterium in nearby Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
Ronda has also included a mountain bike race in each leg.