RUDY Roque and three fellow Navy-Standard Insurance riders seek to keep the top four spots even as Kinetix Lab-Army's Cris Joven tries to crash the party when the LBC Ronda Pilipinas 2017 resumes on Thursday with the 227-km Stage Seven from Watersports Complex in Camarines Sur to Daet in Camarines Norte.
Roque has an aggregate time of 18 hours, 12 minutes and 48 seconds followed by Lomotos (18:13:47), Carino (18:14:43) and Morales (18:15:51).
Joven is fifth with a time of 18:15:51 followed by Go for Gold's Elmer Navarro (18:17:57), RC Cola-NCR's Leonel Dimaano (18:18:01), Go for Gold's Ismael Grospe, Jr. (18:19:02), Army's Lord Anthony del Rosario (18:19:44) and Go for Gold's Jonel Carcueva (18:20:33).
Navy coach Reinhard Gorrantes said with eight stages remaining, their lead is not safe.
"It is still too early to tell and we have no way to find out who will win this race," said Gorrantes.
"That is why we have to protect it well and hope we can widen the gap as the race progesses."
Gorrantes noted the next few stages, including the a 183-km Stage Eight that from Daet to Unisan, Batangas and the criterium at Paseo in Sta. Rosa Laguna on Feb. 19 will be crucial.
"The next three stages will be important, we'll probably get the idea who will win it after it," Gorrantes said.
For the 31-year-old Morales, looking to become the first back-to-back winner of the LBC Ronda, the 40-km Individual Time Trial Stage 12 in Iloilo City on March 2 will be the decisive stage.
"The ITT in Iloilo will be a little difficult because it is long. There's a chance you could lose somewhere around four minutes there," said Morales, who is based in Calumpang, Marikina.
"If you want to win this year, you have to have a six-minute lead after the ITT," he added.
Joven, 30, is also expected to make his move and challenge the powerhouse Navymen for the crown.
"I still have eight stages to catch up so I'm still optimistic about my chance," said Joven, a proud son of Iriga, Camarines Sur.
Ronda offers P1 million to the champion courtesy of LBC in partnership with MVP Sports Foundation, Petron, Mitsubishi, Versa.ph, Partas, Maynilad, Standard Insurance, CCN, Bike Xtreme, NLEX, PhilCycling and 3Q Sports Event Management.