Thousands of cycling enthusiasts have taken part in a Giro d’Italia-related event around two scenic courses in Co Down.
The Gran Fondo is run by Giro organisers RCS who were delighted with the success of the professional race stage held in the Province last May.
Yet again we have proved that we are more than capable of hosting international eventsPSNI ACC Alan Todd
Both of Sunday’s races started and finished at Titanic Belfast with the shorter of the two – 58km/36 miles – around Strangford taking in Moneyreagh, Ballygowan, Killinchy, Whiterock and Comber.
The longer, much hillier, Mournes route – 177km/110 miles – snaked its way through Ballygowan, Dromara, Rathfriland and Rostrevor before returning via the Spelga Dam and Castlewellan.
Around 3,000 people, both amateur and professional, are thought to have taken part with local rider Mark Kane first across the line on the Mourne route in just over five hours. He finished ahead of his brother Paul in second place.
The event will be held in Northern Ireland each year until 2017 as a legacy of the world famous Giro d’Italia.
Alliance MLA and keen cyclist Chris Lyttle, said: “As a supporter of a cycling revolution I am delighted to see the Gran Fondo in Northern Ireland.
“Last year’s Giro d’Italia was an amazing success, engaging people across Northern Ireland where every street along the route was decorated in pink and lined with supporters. That enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled, with more and more people taking up cycling for both recreation and active travel.”
The chair of the Assembly’s all-party group on cycling added: “I am focussed on working for better cycling provision in Northern Ireland. It is essential the Executive delivers a fit for purpose cycling strategy and network to convince people that cycling is for everyone.”Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd thanked motorists affected by traffic disruption for their patience, and added: “People were lining the streets along the route of the Gran Fondo to support the cyclists. This was a significant event for Northern Ireland and yet again we have proved that we are more than capable of hosting international events and doing them well. Thank you to everyone who worked behind the scenes to make the event a success including the many volunteers and marshals.”
When details of Sunday’s event was announced in December, Andrea Trabuio of RCS Sport said, “Following the great success of the 2014 Giro d’Italia Big Start from Belfast, in the amazing scenery of the Northern Ireland coastline, we are very happy to announce a new three-year partnership that will see a series of Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia events hosted in this fantastic country.”
Following the race, all participants were invited to take part in an Italian-themed pizza and pasta party at the Titanic slipways.