Amateurs get ready for the Big Italian Bike Ride

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster is world track champion Martyn Irvine
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster is world track champion Martyn Irvine

Get ready for the Big Italian Bike Ride on Sunday, May 4 when Northern Ireland hosts one of the biggest-ever cycling sportifs as part of the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza (the Big Start) in Belfast the following Friday.

There will be three extremely testing routes with the main event featuring a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride an official stage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, the second biggest bike race in the world.

The headline sponsors are locally-based Chain Reaction Cycles. Sean Kelly, one of Ireland’s greatest ever cyclists and World renown competitor, will participate in one of the routes.

The Gran Fondo which replicates Stage 2, takes in the full 225km (139 miles) stage which the 22 professional teams of nine riders each will negotiate the following Saturday in the ‘Fight for Pink’.

The Medio Fondo will be 135km (84 miles) in length, while the shorter Corto Fondo covers 85km (52 miles).

It is expected that around 1000 participants in total will be afforded the chance to register. Facebook and website registration facilities are still being set-up, but appropriately, St Valentines Day and its association with pink, is the date organisers hope the event goes public The Gran Fondo event is expected to cost around £35-£40 to enter.

While some details have still be ironed out, the event is already on the Cycling Ireland calendar. Most of the background organisation is attributed to the Castlereagh Cycling Club, who have that date booked for their popular annual Tour of The Glens event.

The Pioneer Group, a sports event consultancy, has also had a major role in getting the wheels turning in harness the various organisations, PSNI and the respective councils as well as back-up facilities.

It is hoped that there will be a dramatic marquee start from the iconic Titanic/Odyessy site with riders sent off in groups of 50. Along the route there will be five-star aid stations where competitors will avail themselves of support services.

There will also be full mechanical support teams scattered around the fully marked routes which will feature professional marshals who will be preparing for the main event the following week.

Each rider will be electronic chip-timed and there will be timed sections at two GPM points on the main event and at one point during the other two routes. There will be a unique full specification jersey awarded to the King and Queen of the Mountains on all three exacting routes. All entrants will receive a special event T-shirt to commemorate the occasion as well as a specially commissioned ‘Big Ride’ medal. There will also be significant prizes for entrants with event numbers drawn out at random for up to 10 prizes that include top-of-the-range clothes, a Vitus Vitesse Team High-Modulus Carbon Bike with a retail value of £3,000) plus Garmin accessories.

There will be a full emergency and medical support services provided across all routes and for those feeling a little bit under pressure and weary there will be the ubiquitous pick-up trucks and broom wagon on standby. Expert professional event video and photographic services will be dotted around various points and it will be a good bet that participants will avail of the massage services at the end where there will also be a bike clean operation.

To help cyclists attempt to achieve their goals there will be Chain Reaction Cycles Championes who will assist in the smooth running of the event on the road and offer motivation and guidance on the day. A full online results service will be provided soon after the event.

So get ready, there are only 87 days to go!