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Gran Fondo: Thousands take to the roads for cycle race

Thousands of cyclists tore up the roads of Northern Ireland today as the Gran Fondo bike race finally spun into action on Sunday.

More than 3,000 keen amateur road racers, a fifth of them from outside Northern Ireland, came to take part in the event.

The top honours of the day went to local cyclists Mark Kane and Chris McKeown.

Mark, a former Olympic and Commonwealth games competitor, won the 173km Mourne route race while Chris took top place in the 58km Strangford route race.

It was a Kane 1-2 in the Mourne race as Mark's brother Paul went home with the silver medal.

Another notable feat was Keith Murphy's second place in the Strangford race, coming just months after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

It was also a grand day out for John McKeag (93) and his brother Milton (88) who saddled up for the race as the oldest riders in the field.

They were among the hundreds of riders who set off from the Titanic Slipways this morning, taking either the 173km Mourne route or 58km Strangford route.

The 173km Mourne route took participants from Belfast towards Ballygowan and Saintfeild before heading through the Mourne Mountains.

The route then descended alongside Tollymore Forest Park and into the village of Bryansford before starting the homeward trip.

Passing through Castlewellan, cyclists got a bit of a breather before beginning the last climb of the day to Monte Slieve Croob.

The last leg passed through Dromara and into Saintfield before the gradual descent into Belfast city and the finish at Titanic Belfast.

The shorter Strangford route took riders up Monte Braniel before barreling along the roads and villages of Co. Down.

After leaving the Ards Peninsula, cyclists headed towards Comber before starting the climb of Monte Moneyreagh, the last climb of the day.

They then descended through the hills of North Down and into Belfast city for the finish at the Titanic Museum.

Sunday's inaugural ride is the biggest mass participation sporting event to be held in Northern Ireland and will be staged here for the next two years.

Don't forget to pick up a copy of tomorrow's Belfast Telegraph for full coverage of  the Gran Fondo.

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