Oranza protects perch

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ORANZA

ILOILO CITY — Reigning titlist Ronald Oranza kicks off his title defense today when the much-awaited 2019 Ronda Pilipinas fires off today in this city.

This year’s race will be tough, that’s for sure

Representing Philippine Navy-Standard Insurance, Oranza will have his hands full against a mix of 89 local and foreign cyclists in the five-stage tour sanctioned by the Internarional Cycling Union (UCI).

The Villasis, Pangasinan native Oranza’s quest for second straight Ronda title begins with a 197.6-kilometer Iloilo-Iloilo Stage One today at the Iloilo City Hall. The race ends at the Megaworld Boulevard.

Pedaling his way through that back-to-back bid, however, would be easier said than done with formidable challengers on his way.

“This year’s race will be tough, that’s for sure,” Oranza said. “All the strong riders are here, including the Langkawi champion. I will just try my best.”

True enough, looming as the biggest hurdle for Oranza is the 2018 Tour de Langkawi king Artem Ovenchkin of the Terrengganu Cycling Team from Malaysia, along with former Ronda champions Irish Valenzuela of 7-Eleven-Cliqq and Santy Barnachea of Team Franzia.

Like Oranza, Navy also eyes a title repeat in general classification against a mix of 14 local and international squads.

In the fray are top local contenders 7 Eleven Cliqq – Air 21 Roadbike Philippines, Go For Gold, Team Franzia, Army Bicycology, Tarlac and Bike Extreme together with international challengers like Terrengganu INC TSG Cycling team of Malaysia, Team Matrix Powertag of Japan, NEX cycling team, Korail of Korea, Sri Lanka Navy Cycle team and Indonesia’s PGN Cycling team.

“We trained three months for this and we’re already here in Iloilo since last month. We studied the terrain and adapted with the humid weather,” Oranza said.

“That will be our edge over the foreigners. At the end of the day, we Filipinos should help each other for the victory of the whole country.”

After the Iloilo-Ilolo Stage one, Ronda — which is also part of the Asia Tour for qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — continues with a 101.8-km Guimaras-to-Guimaras Stage Two on 9 February.

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