‘Gran Fondo’ Giro legacy for Northern Ireland

Tthe start of the Los Angeles Gran Fondo in front of the City's iconic CIty Hall
Tthe start of the Los Angeles Gran Fondo in front of the City's iconic CIty Hall

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board are poised to sign off on a major legacy event in the wake of this year’s Grande Partenza Giro d’Italia which gets under way in Belfast on May 9.

An official Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia sportive is expected to be launched for 2015 and will be on the local cycling calendar for at least three years. Cities from all over the world are clamouring to be part of such an event, but with Giro d’Italia visiting the island of Ireland, grand tour organisers RCS have all but agreed that Belfast will become part of the Giro’s official legacy.

Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia is an international circuit of official events born in the USA and is now expanding globally. Obviously, the idea is strictly linked to the Giro d’Italia brand itself and everything that comes with that grand tour event. So far the Gran Fondo (Big Ride) has been held in Pasadena, Sea Otter in the Carmel Valley area of California, New York, Beverly Hills, Miami, and Jerusalem.

The Gran Fondo (Big Ride) Belfast, will see amateur cyclists of all ages and levels participating in an official sportive which will have challenging rides around some of the most iconic roads in Northern Ireland.

No routes have as yet been designated, but obviously Stage 2 of this year’s Giro around the north coast will be in their minds. However, a trip around the Mournes as well as the Sperrins and the Lakes of Fermanagh have also been muted.

A Gran Fondo comes with all the razzmatazz of a grand tour with closed roads, mechanical back-up and an big expo on a giant site to promote cycling, festivals and the required pasta party adding to the atmosphere.

It is hoped that this annual event will remain as an endearing legacy of the Giro’s visit to the island of Ireland and help growth of cycling.

“We are very hopeful that the Gran Fondo will be coming here for the next three years,” said NITB chief executive Alan Clarke. “Everything has to be agreed by RCS, the organisers of the Giro d’Italia.

“It all about using their brand. I think the organisers have been genuinely impressed with Northern Ireland and what all the agencies have done to date in organising the Giro.

“The principle of allowing us to run it here has more or less been agreed which is the key thing for us.

“At the minute we are on the home straight in getting the money agreed regarding financing the event.

“It’s all about having that recognition from RCS who are planning 10 of these events around the world with one of them hopefully in Northern Ireland.

He added: “It really is about selling Northern Ireland. It will be showing our countryside to its full advantage.

“There has been a lot of competition, but again I stress the organisers have been impressed with has been done so far in organising the Giro d’Italia ‘Big Start’ here in May.”

No figures regarding the number of participants of the events have yet been drawn up.

However, with closed roads and every agency that is involved in grand tours being made available for the event, there could be as many as 3,000 upwards being allowed to enter.

The enthusiasm for cycling in Ireland was made clear last month when registration for the Chain Reaction Cycles Big Italian Bike Ride on May 4 and takes in the Stage 2 route of the Giro d’Italia was snapped up in a few days with all 1,200 entries gone in the change of a gear.

Northern Ireland is now getting used to organising major events when you take in the G8, MTV Awards in the Odyssey, Irish Open golf, Police and Fire Games, and Mr Clarke is adamant that it all falls into place with the unstinting help of all the partners.

“The word partnership may be over-used, but without the various agencies it just wouldn’t happen.

“The PSNI have been absolutely terrific along with the Roads Service.

“It’s all about having the passion to deliver and all the organisations are coming in behind us with a real effort and enthusiasm.”