By Jerome Lagunzad
SAN VICENTE, Ilocos Sur — All race contingents, including fancied Navy-Standard Insurance, arrived here today at the initial battleground of the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas, presented by LBC, which hits the main roads of Luzon starting this weekend.
Once all participants have settled down in their respective hotels, most of them including reigning back-to-back titlist Jan Paul Morales of Navy-Standard Insurance, took time to recharge from the nine-hour trip from Manila for what is expected to be a down-the-wire finish in the eighth edition of the race.
“This is going to be one of the most exciting races that we will see since most of the former champions are back in the hunt this year,” said executive project director Moe Chulani, referring to the likes of two-time champion Santy Barnachea of Team Franzia and 2012 titleholder Irish Valenzuela of CCN Superteam.
Former Marlboro Tour champion Warren Davadilla of Team CCN, George Oconer of Go for Gold and Army-Bicycology’s Cris Joven, who finished third overall last year, are also expected to make life tough for Morales and his Navyman teammates.
Team Bike Extreme, under the tutelage of Lloyd Lucien Reynante, is also eager to make heads turn behind the presence of the Pagnanawon family, led by brothers Jaybop and Jhunvie and cousin Jhetly.
Go for Gold is also fielding a developmental team composed of promising riders Ismael Grospe, Jr. Ronilan Quita, Roel Quitoy, Jay Lampawog and Bryant Sepnio and will be led by veteran campaigner Ronnel Hualda.
Team Iloilo, Team Nueva Ecija, Team South Luzon, Team Tarlac and Team Ilocos Sur are also out to make noise.
With a whopping P1million prize at stake for the eventual individual champion, action is expected to be intense in the 40-kilometer Vigan criterium opening stage on Saturday followed by the 55.4km Vigan-Pagudpud Stage 2 on Sunday.