LBC's Ronda grande

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco -

The LBC Ronda Pilipinas launched Wednesday from the Sarangani Provincial Capitol deep in the heart of Mindanao, and teams effortlessly sprinted through the initial 20.3-kilometer team trial stage before the longer stretches of the race to follow. It has expanded to 2,077 kilometers spanning the breadth of the archipelago, running a total of 20 days, 16 of which will be racing days which the remaining four as travel or rest days. It is, to put it mildly, a big feat of organization.

“There is only one tour, the Tour de France,” explains Dino Araneta, president of the sponsoring and organizing LBC Express, and team owner of the Batangas Blades of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association. “So we came up with Ronda Pilipinas so our cyclists could have a venue for their talent and earn a living.”

LBC Ronda Pilipinas stakes some P7.5 million in prizes, including P1 million to the individual champion. This has drawn even some of the country’s legendary riders to try their skill against the new generation of cyclists, including their own sons. It is a grueling race, but the thrill of the chase and the grand prize is worth it.

“Our vision is really to raise the level of cycling in the Philippines,” adds Araneta, who became a cyclist himself after discovering how exciting races can be. “Along with our grassroots development program, we look forward to producing world-class athletes. All they really need is support.”

It was no easy task to bring everything together. LBC’s organizing team transported over 400 people, 25 vehicles, not including three trucks and two buses which served as dressing areas and locker rooms for the cyclists. The group included the 96 cyclists and their equipment and team managers, marshals, technical officials and liaison officers. LBC also hired European and American consultants who have experience with the biggest cycling tours in the world, like the Tour de France and Belgian cycling circuits, to make sure everything was at international standards. But that is simply how it has to be done. Luckily, LBC is in the freight forwarding business and has the resources to stage this event. But despite that, it still cost tens of millions of pesos to prepare.

“This is a really big project for us,” stresses project director Moe Chulani, who has coordinated with all the local government officials, law enforcement, sponsors, medical teams and all others involved in Ronda. “This year, we let the teams get their own sponsors to help offset their costs. We had to think of everything that could possibly be needed, so all that the cyclists need to worry about is doing their best.”

Organizing the LBC Ronda Pilipinas is akin to taking a rock band on tour or staging an out-of-town PBA game or even an NBA game outside the US. And of course, everyone has to be fed, sheltered and cared for. Almost a full year of planning and coordinating had to be done, especially considering the number of local government permits needed, not to mention hotels, restaurants and other resources which will must be accessible along the way.

In line with the races, LBC has also organized community and even coastal clean-ups in every city and municipality that hosts the Ronda. On top of that, they have donated refurbished bicycles to deserving children who live kilometers away from school, to encourage the youth to get an education no matter what challenges lie in their way.

What is even more remarkable is that, despite its grandness, the LBC Ronda Pilipinas is just the tip of the iceberg. The company’s actual commitment to cycling is much deeper. With our tropical climate, it is actually not ideal for cyclists to train in the Philippines. It takes longer for a rider to recover when exposed to extreme heat and potential dehydration. What the public doesn’t know is that LBC actually supports a team of young cyclists who train in better, cooler conditions in Australia and Europe, in the hope that within the next five years or so, one of them will be recruited to race professionally in Europe. The ultimate goal is for at least one of them to make it into one of the teams that race in the Tour de France. What a coup that would be for the Philippines.

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