GEORGE Oconer makes his debut in the Ronda Pilipinas as the race holds its Visayas leg starting on Saturday in Bago City, Negros Occidental.
Oconer and the LBC-MVP Sports Foundation developmental team did not see action in the Mindanao races as he rode for the Philippine national cycling team in Le Tour de Filipinas.
Now the national rider and his LBC-MVP teammates look to give Mindanao Leg champion Jan Paul Morales and the Navy-Standard Insurance squad a tough challenge.
"We're eager to race," said Oconer, who finished second to last year's winner Santy Barnachea, fourth two years ago and third in the first edition of the race.
Rustom Lim, Ronald Lomotos, Mark Julius Bonzo, and Jerry Aquino, Jr. are the other members of the team coached by former Olympian Norberto Oconer.
Morales topped the Mindanao Leg, while seven of his Navy teammates including skipper Lloyd Lucien Reynante and Ronald Oranza wound up in the top 10.
"We knew all along it will be a different race come the Visayas Leg and we're ready for whatever challenge we will face," said Reynante.
Also seeing action are Mindanao riders Ranlen Maglantay and James Paolo Ferfas and other cyclists from Bacolod and Iloilo.
"The field will be much stronger here, which will make it more exciting," said LBC Ronda project director and LBC sports development head Moe Chulani.
Ronda chief commissaire Mickey Rob arrived on Wednesday.
"His experience will be a big factor to ensure the success of our race," said Chulani.
The race starts in Bago City with a criterium followed by another criterium in Iloilo on Sunday.
Stage Two will coincide with the Iloilo Bike Festival featuring thousands of amateur cyclists, executive riders and hobbyists.
Stage Three is a road race set on Tuesday from Iloilo to Roxas City.
An Individual Time Trial will be held in the morning on Thursday, with Stage Five, a criterium, set in the afternoon for the final race of the Visayas leg of the competition 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.