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Gran Fondo: Aussie hero Porte hits Ulster roads with 3,000 others

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 20/06/2015

Sky’s the limit: Richie Porte will be a star attraction
Sky’s the limit: Richie Porte will be a star attraction

Stephen Roche and Richie Porte will be the star attractions when the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia Northern Ireland takes place on Ulster roads tomorrow.

Dubliner Roche, who back in 1987 joined Eddy Merckx as the only man to have won the Triple Crown of the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and World Championships in the same season, is a legend of the sport.

Cycling fans in this part of the world will no doubt be thrilled to see him back on his bike after he was heavily involved in last year's Giro festivities.

Porte, meanwhile, is a huge star of the current peloton and the Australian, who rides for Team Sky alongside Chris Froome, is also set to take part in the race alongside 3,200 amateur enthusiasts.

The sportive, associated with the professional Grand Tour race, is a major legacy event from the 2014 Grande Partenza and will come to Northern Ireland for three consecutive years thanks to an agreement between Shadetree Sports, Tourism NI and RCS Sport.

The majority of participants will hail from Northern Ireland or the Republic, but five riders have registered from Australia and there will also be a competitor representing each of Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, New Zealand and the USA.

Gran Fondos have been a fixture of the Italian cycling calendar since the 1970s, and they will take part throughout the country on any given weekend during the season, but the series associated with the Giro d'Italia launched just three years ago.

In 2012 the inaugural races were taken to Miami and Pasedena but recent editions have occurred in New York, California, Austria and Italy, while, as well as three visits to these shores, there are already plans to take the series to Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica and the Netherlands.

RCS states that the goal of the sportive is "strictly linked to Giro d'Italia and aims to make the Giro d'Italia experience more accessible to fellow cyclists and spread out its values and history worldwide".

The decision to bring the event to Northern Ireland for the trio of races is an attempt to capitalise on the stunning success of last year's Giro.

Competitors will take on one of two closed-road routes with both starting and ending at the Titanic Belfast building.

The Mourne Route is a 177km ride with five climbs and is designed to test the limits of experienced cyclists while the Strangford Route is a 58km loop aimed at novices.

To wrap up the weekend in a distinctly Italian fashion, riders will also be rewarded with a 'pasta party' upon reaching the finish line.

Organisers have already stated that they are banking on big crowds turning out tomorrow to help the spread of the sportive and to turn it into one of premier Gran Fondos in the world.

With aspirations to attract 8,000 riders by the year 2017, they have planned a festival of cycling that will also have plenty to do for those not taking part.

Titanic Quarter Cycling Club, who will have 30 riders taking part in the race, will also run a Street Velodrome to give attendees of all and any ability a chance to experience track cycling, while there will also be a Giro expo held in the Titanic Belfast building.

And who knows: in the next few years the Giro d'Italia itself may return to Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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