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Cyclists in pink as Gran Fondo hits NI's roads for biggest and best race

By Rachel Martin

Thousands of pink-clad cyclists will pedal through some of the most scenic spots in Co Down this weekend as the biggest Gran Fondo event to take place in Northern Ireland gets under way.

Organisers say Sunday's race will be bigger than before, as the event is also marking the 100th Giro d'Italia event.

The Italian cycling extravaganza came to Northern Ireland in 2014 when Belfast was picked as the starting leg of the Giro.

The event was dubbed a huge success, with tens of thousands of spectators turning out for the first three days of competition staged in Northern Ireland.

On the back of that, the Gran Fondo - akin to the little brother of the Giro - took place here the year after with 3,200 riders.

This year, riders will start and finish the gruelling 174km endurance race to the backdrop of Northern Ireland's Parliament Buildings in Stormont Estate.

The route will dodge the city centre, taking cyclists towards Moneyrea, Ballygowan and Killinchy.There are two routes within the Gran Fondo - the 'Mourne Route', a long 174km loop, and the 'Strangford Route', a shorter 58km route.

The Mourne route starts at Stormont at 7am and the Strangford route starts at 8.30am. The routes takes in some of the most scenic spots of Co Down, including Slieve Croob, Carlingford Lough, Spelga Dam, Strangford Lough and the Mourne Mountains, before tracing the rugged Strangford Lough coastline past Castle Espie towards Belfast.

The event will finish with a pasta party at Stormont Estate.

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin pedalled to victory at this year's Giro, finishing the final leg in Milan on Sunday with a time of 90 hours 34 minutes and 54 seconds. The race ran over three and a half weeks, covering 3,609.1 km spread over 21 stages.

Despite its distance, cyclists on the race still typically managed average speeds of around 38km per hour.

Founded in 1909 and organised by the Newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Giro has run every year except during the two World Wars. As part of a special 100th edition, this year's Giro stayed within Italy's borders and featured as many of the race's classic climbs as possible.

See today's Belfast Telegraph for our Gran Fondo supplement and belfasttelegraph.co.uk for details of road closures and traffic updates

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