Northern Ireland

Gran Fondo: Record race entry for this year's event

The event will begin from the Stormont estate in Belfast Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Gran Fondo will begin from the Stormont estate in Belfast

A record 4,631 riders will be involved in this year's Gran Fondo cycling race which begins from Belfast's Stormont estate.

The mass participation cycling event for amateurs and professionals is a legacy of the Giro d'Italia, part of which was staged in Northern Ireland in 2014.

Stormont will also provide the finish for this year's event.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Amateur and professional cyclists take part in the event

Various roads will be closed on Sunday.

The race is split into two separate routes - the main one through the Mourne mountains and the other towards Strangford Lough.

The Mourne route starts at 07:00 BST, with the Strangford route beginning at 08:30 BST.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Competitors get into their stride in Bryansford, County Down, during last year's Gran Fondo

Darach McQuaid of organiser Shadetree Sports said this would be the biggest Gran Fondo in Northern Ireland to date and that it would have a truly international flavour.

It will include an octogenarian, originally from Northern Ireland, who is jetting in from the US.

Pedal-pushing pensioner

"The first Gran Fondo in 2015 had around 3,000 cyclists taking part, with the second just under 4,000," Mr McQuaid said.

Image caption Darach McQuaid is one of the organisers

"This year, the start is switching from the Titanic Quarter to Stormont estate and for the first time we will have riders from the likes of Russia, India and South Africa.

"We are in double digit figures in terms of riders from the US.

"This year we have an 83-year-old travelling over from Seattle, Sam McComb.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Riders also travelled through Belfast

"He is originally from Northern Ireland and he raced with my dad Jim McQuaid - a multiple Ulster champion - in the 1940s.

"John Sheehan, who I would have raced with, told Sam about the event and he is going to take part."

The Gran Fondo gives amateur riders the opportunity to rub shoulders with cycling royalty and renowned Irish road racer Stephen Roche will be among the main attractions at this year's event.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Renowned Irish cyclist Stephen Roche will be participating in the Gran Fondo

2017 has a particular resonance for the Dubliner as it marks the 30th anniversary of his triple crown triumph of the Giro d'italia, Tour de France and World Championship.

Stephen Roche's son Nicolas also competed in the Giro when part of it was staged in Northern Ireland, with Stormont featuring in a time trial.

Mr McQuaid recently attended some stages of the Giro d'italia as it celebrated its 100th birthday and he is hopeful the star-studded event will return to Northern Ireland in the future.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption His son Nicolas Roche was a competitor when part of the Giro d'Italia was staged in Northern Ireland

"I was in Sardinia and Milan recently for the 100th anniversary of the Giro d'Italia and some of the organisers still say Northern Ireland was our best start ever and that they want to come back, so hopefully they will come back at a future date," he added.

Full details, route maps, road closures and other information relating to this year's event are available on the Gran Fondo website.

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