It could have been a stroke of luck that cycling immediately came under the radar of the MVP Sports Foundation when it was on the hunt for sports to create future champions.
When the MVPSF was launched five years ago, the LBC Ronda Pilipinas was also being inaugurated to become the country’s biggest cycling race with comparisons only to the fabled Marlboro Tour of yesteryears.
Two upstarts connecting-- by fate or luck--was a match made in heaven.
Ronda project director and LBC Sports Development head Moe Chulani accounted this to cycling as having a huge potential of winning medals in international meets, like the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, World Championships and the Olympics.
“Cycling is not as popular as basketball and the rest of the sports disciplines the MVPSF is currently supporting, but it has a legitimate potential of winning gold medals,” said Chulani.
One proof to this was Daniel Caluag.
Caluag, a 29-year old Filipino-American based in Los Angeles, California, has reaped honors for the country by snaring golds in BMX—one of cycling’s events that also included road race and mountain bike—in the 2013 Asian BMX Championship in Singapore, 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Napyidaw, Myanmar and the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Caluag first served notice when he copped a silver medal in the elite men's cruiser event of the 2007 UCI BMX World Championships in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada before representing the Philippines in the 2012 London Games.
So impressive was Caluag that the Philippine Sportswriters Association named him its Athlete of the Year in the 2014-- the first time it bestowed the country's highest sporting honor to a cyclist.
“With the help of the MVPSF and other groups like Ronda and PhilCycling, Caluag produced gold medals in BMX for the flag,” said Chulani.
There also was Junrey Navarra.
Just 1.63 meters (5-foot-three) tall and weighing around 49 kilograms, Navarra was Ronda's King of the Mountain following his domination of the annual race’s Baguio Stage in three different editions.
And science can explain why Navarra should be world class.
The VO2 Max-- a system used to measure an athlete’s ability for endurance events or the amount of oxygen one could absorb during prolonged strenuous activity, revealed Navarra was at par with the world's best riders.
A former tricycle driver who dropped out of high school, Navarra honed his skills in his hometown province’s mountainous terrain.
In 2014, Navarra, took part in his first ever European race, the UCI 1.1 GP Miguel Indurain in Spain where he finished an impressive 30th placer out of 150 international pro riders. He owns the distinction of being the first Filipino to accomplish the feat.
He also took a bronze medal in the 2013 SEA Games and raced against Asia’s very best in competitions in Indonesia, Malaysia and Chinese Taipei.
“This is my dream, to ride and compete in international races,” said Navarra.
Now, Navarra, under the Cyclista program, will try to become the first Filipino to ever race in the Tour de France—the mecca of cycling.
And then, the many other products of the partnership between the MVPSF and Ronda, among them George Luis Oconer, Ronald Oranza and Rustom Lim.
Oconer started as a 19-year-old dreamer who wanted to follow in his father Norberto's footsteps.
The elder Oconer had competed in the quadrennial Summer Games twice—in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea and in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, dreams his son vowed to accomplish on his own, too.
Oconer is slowly building up his record, once finishing runner-up and had four top 10 finishes in Ronda.
In his sixth attempt, Oconer, who topped the 2017 Ronda edition qualifying race at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in Zambales City, is hoping to finally win the crown.
“With the proper support and training, I have a chance to finally win the Ronda Pilipinas title this year,” said Oconer.
Oconer is also not losing focus on his Olympic dream.
“As long as I can ride a bicycle and I have strength in me, I will never stop dreaming of making it to the Olympics just like my father. Because I really want him and my family to be proud of me,” he said.
Oranza, 22, topped one of the three legs in the 2016 Ronda edition.
Riding for Standard Insurance-Navy team, Oranza booked his first Ronda victory by topping the Visayas Leg of Ronda’s three-leg 2016 edition. Oranza’s teammate, Jan Paul Morales, reigned supreme in the other two legs in Luzon and Visayas.
It was Oranza’s first ever Ronda conquest. His closest brush with Ronda glory was a third place performance in the third edition three years ago when he wound up behind champion Irish Valenzuela.
All in all, Oranza, a proud son of Villasis, Pangasinan, has eight Ronda lap victories to his credit.
In his Ronda debut, Oranza, then representing Pangasinan where most of the past Tour and Ronda champions including Santy Barnachea were born, showed exceptional sprint power that impressed race organizers. They made him part of the LBC-MVPSF team for top riders aged 18-years and below.
Benefitting from the program, Oranza pocketed a bronze in the road race event of the 2013 SEA Games.
Now under the guidance of the Navy team skippered by Lloyd Lucien Reynante, Oranza is eyeing nothing less a gold medal in next year’s SEAG in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“I hope to win a gold in the SEA Games,” said Oranza.
Lim, 24, is a national team regular. He was part of the Oranza-led squad that took bronze in Naypyidaw. He joined the squad in its races and training in Europe, Asia and Southeast Asia. Other members of that squad were Julius Mark Bonzo, El Joshua Carino, Ronald Lomots and Navarra.
He registered his first Baguio victory in the 2016 Luzon Leg of Ronda where he threatened Morales for the title. He eventually settled for second overall behind title-holder Morales.
Lim also made it to the four-man team that participated in the 2015 UCI Road World Championship in Richmond, Virginia, United States from September 19-27. The other members of the team were Mark Camingao, Ronald Lomotos and Dominic Perez.
Morales, 30, topped two of the three legs in the 2015 Ronda Pilipinas—the Mindanao and Visayas phases, for his first ever Ronda victories. It completed his transformation from a sprint specialist—and the best in the country today—to a complete rider after improving on his climbing skills.
“I was known as a sprinter. Now, they know me as a complete cyclist after my two Ronda leg victories,” said Morales, a silver medallist in the 35th Asian Cycling Championship in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand in 2015.
“I had to sacrifice a lot of things to do what I have done and it was worth it,” he said.
Cycling is also not exclusively for male riders.
Marella Vania Salamat, who participated in Ronda as a guest rider in 2015, captured a women’s individual time trial gold in the 2015 Singapore Games. She left the field by a mile by finishing 45.9 seconds ahead of her closest rival, Thailand’s Chanpeng Nontasin, the ITT champion and massed start medallist in the 2011 Indonesia SEA Games.
MVPSF and Ronda are also scraping the provinces to give less fortunate riders a chance to breach the national level.
And in months, we could expect from the likes of Ralen Maglantay, James Paolo Ferfas, Ronnilan Quita Reimon Lapaza-- young riders wanting tickets out of poverty-- to finally take the cycling batons from Mark Galedo, Santy Barnachea, George Oconer, Irish Valenzuela and the many others who came before them.
And possibly, they would soon form the country's teams like those the MVPSF has helped field in the 2016 Olympic in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.
And just like that, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games are looming.
That's why there's no stopping the MVPSF and Ronda's search for future cycling champions.