Chef Tony rustles up menu to help cyclists replace calories burned in gruelling bike race
He's the man who knows how to replenish the 5,000 calories that riders in the gruelling Giro D'Italia Gran Fondo race can expect to use up in energy.
Tony O'Neill is a chef by profession, but he will also one of the thousands of keen amateur cyclists who will be taking part in Sunday's epic 177km route through counties Down and Antrim.
The co-owner of Coppi Restaurant in Belfast is the event's executive chef and has devised the menu and recipes for the pasta party that is expected to feed 3,000 people after the race.
He told the Belfast Telegraph that he kept the menu simple and tasty with chicken Parmigiana, pasta Arrabiata, pizza made in wood stone ovens and salad.
"I'll be starving after the event as you can expect to use up between 4,000 and 5,000 calories during the ride, so I expect all the riders will be ready for their food," said the 43-year-old.
"It is physically demanding and I tend to eat snacks on a long ride such as cereal bars, bananas, wholemeal bread ham sandwiches with isotonic drinks.
"I know that pasta and pizza is exactly what the riders will need to stock up again."
Tony is one of the members of a Dave Kane cycling group in Belfast and he has already tried out the route which takes in Spelga Dam, the Mourne Mountains and Rostrevor at the weekend.
"It's a beautiful route but it's not easy," said Tony.
"There's 2,500 metres of hill elevation with a few good mountain climbs like over Spelga Dam, Dree Hill and Slieve Crobh.
"And while it will be beautiful scenery to see, you still have to get to the top."
The Gran Fondo - seen by amateur cyclists as their very own Giro D'Italia - has become regarded as an unmissable race for competitors due to its closed circuit.
Tony said: "It's the closed circuit that makes the race really attractive for riders, not having to worry about other motorists or distractions.
"Motorists and cyclists don't always get on that well and to be able to have the road to ourselves makes it special."
Tony is a former marathon runner who decided four years ago that cycling would be a more gentle way of exercise for him.
Cycling is obviously as much a passion as his food as his restaurant - which he co-owns with Sam Spain - is named after legendary cyclist Angelo Fausto Coppi, who won the Giro D'Italia five times from 1940 to 1953.
Tony, who is married to Andrea and is the father of Jasmine (15) and Jake (13), expects to complete the race in six-and-a-half to seven hours.
He said: "There will be so many of our group who will be racing and will be flying, but I will probably keep to a group of about 15 of us and we will all be working as a team to get us around the circuit."
For route information visit www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk and http://www.granfondogiroditaliani.com/
5 facts about big race
1. Over 100 riders are expected to take part in the VIP ride on Saturday with former Irish professional rider Stephen Roache and Team Sky rider Richie Porte. It will be followed by a gala dinner.
2. There are two circuits on Sunday’s Gran Fondo — the 58km Strangford route and the 177km Mourne route. All riders will be treated to a pasta party celebration after they complete the course.
3. An expected 3,000 riders will take on some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful but punishing mountain climbs. The top of Spelga Dam has been described as the ‘roof’ of the Gran Fondo as the climb reaches its highest peak of the race.
4. Each rider who completes the Gran Fondo will received a medal hand-made in Italy that is meant to last a lifetime.
5. An outdoor velodrome will be set up near the start and finish area at Titanic Belfast to give up-and-coming young riders a chance to try out their skills.