Ford Forza braces for a tough challenge, strong finish in Ironman 70.3 Cebu

By Eric Nicole Salta | Photo courtesy of Ford Forza

In 2015, the Guidicellis led by patriarch Gianluca made a groundbreaking statement in triathlon when they formed the Ford Forza Triathlon Team. Back then you could be forgiven for easily dismissing this group as a gimmick on first look; after all, when you’ve got a star-studded lineup—actors Matteo Gudicelli and Ivan Carapiet, TV host and Philippine sports icon Dyan Castillejo, and previously Victor Basa—you’d think that it’s nothing more than just a group of celebrity friends rehashing their star power into a trendy sport like triathlon. But two years later, Ford Forza still continues to dominate. Both in the sport and with their long-held advocacy.

Still toned and deliciously motivated, the 2017 iteration finds the Guidicellis reinforcing Ford Forza with an amiable, youthful vibe, thanks largely to the now-20 member team

“When we started this team, I told my sister and dad that I want to support Filipino athletes who don’t have the financial capability to race,” says Matteo. Though there are more naturally stronger teams in the scene but in terms of representation, growth, and inspiration, Ford Forza outperforms its peers. Still toned and deliciously motivated, the 2017 iteration finds the Guidicellis reinforcing Ford Forza with an amiable, youthful vibe, thanks largely to the now-20 member team. As to whether Ford Forza has shed its celebrity gloss (or at least the community’s perception of it) to be taken seriously as a force to be reckoned with doesn’t really matter. Captain Gianluca sums up the team’s touchstone with a steamy, kinetic kiss-off: “We do it because we like to do it.”

Here, we give five reasons why Ford Forza is the team to watch in Cebu.

1. New faces, new storylines

While the team boasts a diverse mix of members that include Matteo, sister Giorgia, cancer survivor and lawyer Joey Torres, and elites Joseph Miller and Elmo Clarabal, the group dynamics changes once again with the addition of new members such as cyclist Ica Maximo that carve out enthralling narratives to influence and revitalize the current lineup’s spirit.

2. The Dus’ debut

This year’s race will mark the 2013 Pinoy Biggest Loser participants and brothers Ralph and Christian Du’s first crack at triathlon, virtually 10 steps up from their running and boxing regimen. “We’re doing it because it’s the ultimate challenge,” they say, who both lost over 100 lbs. between them. 

3. Matteo’s upgraded training program

With pro triathlete Mitch Robins taking over the bulk of his training, Matteo looks to target a sub-5 this year. Despite schedules both here and abroad, Matteo thrives in pushing himself as far as he could so much so that his Robins-tailored, four-week training block is the first time he’s actually managed to allot a month of training before an Ironman 70.3 Cebu race. “I’m following his program and hopefully there’s going to be a good effect,” he says. “I was close in the previous years, 5:10, 5:15, 5:20, and I want to break it already. In terms of nutrition I’ve been eating a lot of plant-based foods.”

4. A teenager’s promise

At 17 years old, Cebu-based Christian Saladaga isn’t the youngest Ford Forza member but he sure ranks high on strength alone. His history of beating more seasoned, older athletes make him a serious threat and future contender. And with training that began in August 2016, Saladaga feels comfortable running with the big dogs. If anything, Saladaga reflects the work of a group of people who are committed to their advocacy of helping fellow athletes.

5. The power of coercion 

Sports should be fun, not forced. But people closest to the Guidicellis have come to expect one thing: a little coercion into triathlon. Fortunately, cousin Donikko Fernan and friend Tricia Espino whom Matteo lovingly calls “Pasta Queen” bear no ill will to Matteo’s antics. Espino, 27, a former varsity football player and perennial runner, only officially started triathlon in February this year. Last year’s relay with Bubbles Paraiso and Gretchen Fullido—and a little egging on from Giorgia—eventually became the catalyst. “It’s hard because you have to find time to train and balance it with work. I wake up at 5am and train until 9am, go to Trufa to work until 5pm, and then go work out again,” Espino says.

Meanwhile, Fernan, 24, moved to Manila in September 2016 and much of what Matteo does informs the younger athlete’s next moves. “He wanted me to join all his runs and bikes, I never did those before, I only played football,” he says. “And then he signed me up for races without me knowing. That’s how I started with triathlon.” And if that isn’t a baptism of fire yet, this year’s Ironman 70.3 Cebu marks both Espino and Fernan’s third race ever. “As I started getting into it, I ended up falling in love with triathlon,” Espino says. “Yeah you look for it already,” Fernan chimes in, saying that he “feels bad when you don’t do anything in a day.” It’s a long way from how they started waking up in the morning swearing and complaining to gearing for their biggest race yet. But Espino and Fernan show that commitment can be liberating, and as they get closer to race day, discovers what else newcomers to the sport are really capable of.