THE championship round of the Ronda Pilipinas 2015 gets rolling on Sunday with over a hundred riders set to start at Paseo Greenfield City in Sta. Rosa Laguna.
The event opens with a 60-kilometer criterium in Paseo Greenfield City in the morning and a 120.5-km Stage Two in the afternoon starting in Calamba and finishing at the top of the Quezon National Park passing Tatlong Eme in Atimonan, Quezon.
Reimon Lapaza of Butuan City starts his title defense against a strong cast headed by former Le Tour de Filipinas and Ronda champion Mark Galedo of the national team, Santy Barnachea of Navy-Standard Insurance and Irish Valenzuela of Army.
Ronald Oranza of Navy and Boots Ryan Cayubit of 7-Eleven are also expected to contend for the title after victories in the Luzon and Visayas qualifiers, respectively.
"I'm prepared but I know it's not going to be easy because they're all looking at me now," said the 29-year-old Lapaza.
Barnachea, inaugural champion in 2011 and still riding at 38, believes it is Galedo, the 2012 titlist, is the rider to watch.
"For me, it's Mark Galedo who is the most dangerous cyclist here because of his experience," said Barnachea, third overall in the Luzon qualifier in Tarlac and Antipolo.
For Galedo, it's a wide open race.
"I think any rider can win this year," said the 29-year-old Galedo, a former Southeast Asian Games gold medalist.
Set on Monday is the 171.1-km Stage Three, considered one of the toughest stages with the start line in Lucena through the mountain pass to Rizal and finishing in Manila.
On Feb. 24, participants ride a 159-km Stage Four from Malolos, Bulacan and finish in front of the Tarlac Provincial Capitol.
Stage Five is a 151.8-km race from Tarlac to Dagupan, followed by the 152.5-km Stage Six from Dagupan to Harrison Ave. in Baguio City.
Stage Seven is an 8.8-km individual time trial ending on the peak of Sto. Tomas mountain, considered as the highest point in Baguio, with Stage Eight a 90-km criterium around the Summer Capital.
About 80 cyclists advanced from the Luzon and Visayas qualifiers, joining Lapaza, Galedo and the national team and a composite European squad, which arrived yesterday for the race presented by LBC, supported by major sponsors the Manny V. Pangilinan Sports Foundation, Petron and Mitsubishi, minor sponors Cannondale, Standard Insurance, Tech1 Corp., Maynilad, NLEX and NLEX Cycling and sanctioned by PhilCycling with TV5 and Sports Radio as media partners.