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Gran Fondo: Andy can tackle challenge lying down as his bad back rules normal bicycle out

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 18/06/2015

Andy Higginson in the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain
Andy Higginson in the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain
Richie Porte of Australia and Team Sky will be taking part in the Gran Fondo Giro D'Italia
The Giro d'Italia legacy project, The Gran Fondo takes place on Sunday 21 June.
Gran gesture: Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster (second left) with Shadetree’s Darach McQuaid (left), NITB’s Susie McCullough, and Andrea Trabuio, RCS Sport Director, at yesterday’s Titanic launch of Gran Fondo
Tony O’Neill is executive chef of the Gran Fondo

It's a real homecoming for one Gran Fondo Giro D'Italia rider - as well as an essential health discipline.

Co Down-born former Ulster Rugby player Andy Higginson is taking part in the 58km Strangford cycle route on Sunday.

The fact the 67-year-old is still able to compete in major sports events is a testament to his gritty determination as he battles with a chronic back injury every day.

However, instead of the normal road bike spectators are used to, he will be using a £5,500 recumbent trike over the rolling hills.

There is also the added attraction that the route will pass by his mother's house in Killinchy.

Andy, who was born in Holywood and used to play for Ulster, North of Ireland and London Irish, suffered spinal injuries while playing for the Exiles in the 1960s.

He has endured a number of medical complications, as well as battling prostate cancer.

In 2000, Andy had to have his aortic valve replaced with a metal valve, which means he now has to take Warfarin daily to thin his blood.

While he recovered well, he was unable to restart his exercise routine to maintain the stability of his back, so he took up cycling.

The defence consultant told the Belfast Telegraph: "At one point due to other medical complications my spine surgeon told me that my cycling days were over.

"I wondered if the bikes that Paralympians used could help and after I tried out a recumbent trike I knew that this was the bike for me.

"I take a break every hour to help with the strain on my back."

Andy and his wife Ann visited Provence in France and he managed to ride up Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez - a phenomenal achievement.

Ann added: "Andy Higginson is a very fit man.

"He has been fit all his life and loves to cycle as it is an active outdoor activity that takes him close to nature.

"Andy does still have some pain after riding the trike.

"It is worth it for him to get out and exercise and stay fit.

"The trike is a lifesaver in every respect. It enables Andy to get out and exercise, which is so important for his physical and mental wellbeing."

For route and road closure information visit and

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