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Gran Fondo Northern Ireland: Take a ride of the 2016 Strangford route

By Jonny Bell

Published 03/06/2016

Tele Journalist Jonny Bell prepares for the race.
Tele Journalist Jonny Bell prepares for the race.
Trevor Martin
Barbara Hanlon with pet Barney
Garmin Varia Vision provided some assistance.

Sun, sun and more sun was promised by weather forecasters - and didn't it deliver.

So what better day for a bike ride?

The Gran Fondo - the Giro d'Italia legacy event - steams into Belfast once again this Sunday.

Thousands will set off from Titanic for two routes; a 175km killer to the Mournes and a more sedate 58km Strangford route - all on closed roads.

And in preparation we dispatched our reporter Jonny Bell to the Mournes. Until his complaints and threats of protest saw him saddle up for Strangford.

The 58km, or 36mile, round trip sets off from Titanic Belfast through the east of the city before the first challenge, Mount Braniel.

Billed as gradual, it has its way of suddenly coming up on you, but the views looking out over Belfast Lough are something else.

Although you'll not forget the city is at the bottom of a basin and all routes out involve a climb of some degree.

After the initial climb the rolling Castlereagh hills unfold and the beauty of North Down presents itself.

And on a sun-soaked Wednesday afternoon the views are truly magnificent.

Cycling has its own special little community.

I took up two wheels primarily to save money, but also to keep up the exercise after getting tired of the tunes at my local gym.

After ditching a tired old mountain bike for a road bike to change up a gear - with just a touch of lycra - suddenly everything changed.

You'd get a friendly wave and a hello from friendly passing cyclists.

And on my preview of the Gran Fondo, Trevor Martin was just such a friendly face.

The 49-year-old Belfast civil servant was taking a "sneaky" preview himself to prepare for Sunday.

"It's the best thing for cycling in Northern Ireland," he said.

"I've done time trials when marshals wave the traffic down for you as you pass. But with the roads all closed for the riders it will be something special.

"And sure there is nothing like getting on the bike for a run, especially with this weather."

Back to the route and the pleasant surprise of the fishing village of Whiterock.

Barbara Hanlon lives right on the route of the Gran Fondo.

She’ll be wearing pink – the colour of the Giro d’Italia – to welcome the riders.

“Sunday will be a sea of colour,” she said.

“It’s a great event with a great atmosphere.”

Back to the cogs and back to those hills.

You may never have heard someone say they conquered Mount Moneyreagh – but I did.

And then it’s back to the city.

Four thousand people are set to take part in Sunday’s Gran Fondo, it’s second running following the phenomenal success of the Giro d’Italia Big Start in 2014.

As well as the main cycle run there are also a Giro Expo throughout the weekend at Titanic.

Organiser Darach McQuaid said this year will be bigger and better than ever.

“Riders are coming from USA, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden and the UK,” he said.

“They’ll experience the Giro-style closed roads and a real festival atmosphere by the communities both routes pass through.

“This year we are also the anchor event for the NI Festival of Cycling and we are looking forward to welcoming families from all over Northern Ireland to Titanic Belfast and Titanic Exhibition Centre for all kinds of cycling fun.”

The tech

While our reporter did every mile under his own puff, he did get assistance from some of the latest technology.

The Garmin Edge 1000 ensured the right route was followed and even provide some virtual competition along the route.

All the stats for the run came from the Garmin Varia Vision. A first test in all of Ireland, this small device clips to glasses and sits over your right eye providing information on elevation, distance, speed and even if something is coming up behind when used with the Garmin Varia Radar sensor.

To make sure the shock of the ride didn’t end in a trip to casualty, the Garmin Vivo Smart HR watch kept track of heart rate and calories burned.

And the Garmin Virb camera was there to record the feat in stunning high definition.

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