Benvenuto, Gran Fondo! Thousands set to get on bikes
We're back in the pink for the Giro d'Italia big bike ride
Benvenuto, Gran Fondo! Thousands of men, women and children will be getting on their bikes today and tomorrow as Northern Ireland gets in the pink once more with Giro d'Italia fever.
More than 3,000 keen amateur road cyclists - a fifth of them coming from outside Northern Ireland to take part in the event - will ride either one of the 173km or 58km routes through the stunning Mourne Mountains or Strangford countryside tomorrow.
Former Irish professional Giro, Tour de France and world champion road racing cyclist and Gran Fondo ambassador Stephen Roche will join Sky Team rider Richie Porte on a VIP ride out today with a select group of cyclists, who have either paid for the honour or won it in various competitions.
For the younger riders, hundreds of them from Belfast, Newtownards, Carrickfergus and Comber will take part in the Gran Fondo Piccolo and ride along the towpath into Belfast to meet up later for a barbecue party.
But there will be pain with the pasta tomorrow when the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia bike event takes over huge swathes of counties Down and Antrim.
It will require endurance for both the riders and an estimated 100,000 residents impacted by road closures to ensure a successful and safe event on Father's Day.
The riders will be greeted with a hot meal of pasta and pizza at Titanic Belfast in keeping with the Italian ethos of the event to soothe their physical pain.
Sunday's inaugural ride is the biggest mass participation sporting event to be held in Northern Ireland and it is set to be held for the next two years.
The Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia Northern Ireland is unique in that it will be run on closed roads, similar to that which the professional cycle teams enjoyed in last year's Giro d'Italia.
The promise of a closed route has been the added attraction to ensure such a strong entry, with riders coming from as far away as China and Australia.
The event organisers have been working for months with the PSNI and local authorities to develop the route and a number of route gateways which will allow local residents access.
For those living along the route, which goes from Moneyreagh on the outskirts of Belfast to Titanic Belfast, the main road will be closed from 9am- 4pm to facilitate the riders from both routes who will be coming back that way.
A Gran Fondo spokesman said: "The closed road format of cycling events is normally only a luxury for the elite professionals, like we had for the Giro Big Start 2014.
"With over 150 miles of roads affected we are working hard to manage such a large area and the expectations of both the local residents and the participants who will be taking part in the epic challenge.
"Our mantra has been to organise a safe event while working hard on local facilitation.
"This is something which we will put to the fore on Sunday and continue to develop in the future after the first edition of the Gran Fondo."
Titanic Belfast will be the focal point for the start and finish celebrations and a fun spot for spectators and friends and families of the riders to enjoy the atmosphere.
For the first time on the island of Ireland there will be a street velodrome, allowing cyclists to take part in a pursuit race free of charge. It will open from 10am- 5pm both days.
A team of eight chefs under the leadership of Titanic Belfast executive head chef Alastair Fullerton have been preparing huge quantities of food for the free supper of pasta and pizza. There will be also a Fitzers family barbecue and café for spectators.
5 Gran Fondo pasta party facts
- 150kg of DeCecco pasta will be used to provide a free hot meal for over 3,000 riders
- 1,000kg of plum tomatoes will be used for the Pasta Arrabiata
- 3,500 x 200g Moy Park chicken breasts will b used for the Chicken Parmigiana
- 80kg of Parmesan cheese will be used in the pasta dishes and wood stone pizzas made on Sunday
- Eight Belfast Titanic chefs have been working for three days on food preparation.