CHALLENGING and tough.
That is how race director Ric Rodriguez described the eight-stage, six-day championship round of the Ronda Pilipinas 2015 presented by LBC that rolls off on Sunday at Paseo Greenfiled City in Sta. Rosa, Laguna and ends on Sunday in cool, breezy Baguio City.
"The race route is challenging and tough specially going to the final stages in Baguio," said Rodriguez. "Also, the best in the country are participating so we expect a battle royale until the finish."
In the first day alone, riders will tackle two stages - a 60-kilometer criterium around paved, flat roads of Greenfield City in the morning and a 120.5-km lap that starts in Calamba, Laguna and ends in treacherous Quezon National Park in Atimonan, Quezon in the afternoon.
It only gets tougher from there.
The race resumes the next day with a 171.1-km Stage Three, considered as the longest and one of the toughest in the finale considering it will unfold in Lucena, Quezon and rolls through the mountain pass leading Rizal, considered as the backdoor to Antipolo and eventually to Manila.
On February 24, participants will negotiate the 159-km Stage Four as they will be flagged off from Malolos, Bulacan and finish in front of the Tarlac Provincial Capitol.
The next two days, it will be the 151.8-km Stage Five from Tarlac to Dagupan, Pangasinan, considered the epicenter of the country's cycling universe where champions are born, and the 152.5-km Stage Six sending cyclists from Dagupan to Harrison Ave. in Baguio City.
Capping the race are an 8.8-km Stage Seven individual time trial that ends at the peak of Sto. Tomas mountain, considered as the highest point in Baguio and the 90-km Stage Eight criterium that will go around the cool, breezy city before ending at Harrison Ave.
About 80 cyclists advanced from the Luzon and Visayas qualifiers, joining last year's champion Reimon Lapaza of Butuan City, Mark Galedo and his national team and a composite European squad, which is scheduled to arrive Saturday, vying for the top purse worth P1 million.
This early, Lapaza, Galedo, Navy-Standard Insurance's Santy Barnachea and Army's Irish Valenzuela loom as the early favorites.
Ronald Oranza, now representing Navy, and 7-Eleven's Boots Ryan Cayubit are also considered as potential contenders for the title following their impressive showing in the qualifiers.
Both 22 years old, Oranza, a consistent top five finisher but never a winner, and Cayubit displayed excellent climbing skills and superb sprint ability when they topped the Luzon and Visayas legs, respectively.
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.