MANILA, Philippines – Defending champion Jan Paul Morales will be the rider to watch, and Philippine Navy Standard Insurance the team to beat, when the 2018 Ronda Pilipinas unfolds on March 3 at Vigan City.
The 32-year-old Morales will try to defend the crown that he won in last year's 14-stage race ahead of fellow Navyman Rudy Roque and Philippine Army's Cris Joven.
The former Southeast Asian Games gold medalist is the heavy favorite to repeat as champion in the annual race. If he does emerge triumphant, Morales will become the most titled rider in the history of Ronda Pilipinas with three crowns.
He will surge ahead of two-time winner Santy Barnachea, who won the inaugural race and again in 2015.
Other past Ronda champions were Irish Valenzuela (2012), Mark Galedo (2013) and Reimon Lapaza (2014).
"I hope to win it again this year," said Morales, who took his first crown two years ago.
Navy remains the team to beat despite losing team captain Lloyd Lucien Reynante and Daniel Ven Carino. In their place, the team has tapped multiple-time Ronda King of the Mountain winner Junrey Navarro, while reinserting Ronald Oranza to the team
Other members of Navy are Roque, El Joshua Carino, Jhon Mark Camingao, Ronald Lomotos and Archie Cardana.
Morales, however, knows he faces a tougher challenge this year against a field that included Barnachea, who will represent Team Francia, Joven, Valenzuela and Marlboro Tour champion Warren Davadilla of CCN Super team, Go for Gold’s George Oconer and Jaybop Pagnanawon of Team Bike Xtreme.
A whopping P1 million will be at stake in this 12-stage race that will open with the 40-kilometer Vigan criterium Stage 1 on March 3 and the 155.4-km Vigan-Pagudpud Stage 2 the next day.
The other stages are the 223.5-km Pagudpud-Tuguegarao Stage 3 on March 5, the 135.2-km Tuguegarao-Isabela Stage 4 on March 6, the 179.4-km Isabela-Nueva Ecija Stage 5 on March 8, the 111.8-km Nueva Ecija-Tarlac Stage 6 on March 9, the 31.5-km Individual Time Trial Stage 7 and the 42.14-km Team Time Trial Stage 8 both in Tarlac on March 10 and 11.
Winding up the race are the 207.2-km Silang-Batangas-Tagaytay Stage 9 on March 15, the 147.8-km Tagaytay-Calaca Stage 10 on March 16, the 92.72-km Calaca-Calaca Stage 11 on March 17 and the 50-km Filinvest Alabang criterium Stage 12 on March 18.
Other teams joining are Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Sur, Go for Gold Developmental team, South Luzon and Tarlac Province.
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