Gran Fondo: Tourism staff pumped up to raise cash for local guide dogs charity
A group of colleagues from Tourism NI will lead by example when they ride in the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia on Sunday.
The six male and female cyclists - including chief operating officer Kathryn Thompson - will be raising money towards the £5,000 target for Guide Dogs NI this year.
Tourism NI is a major partner in hosting the Gran Fondo, which is a legacy event following the successful Giro d'Italia last year.
More than 3,000 riders have entered, 20% of them from outside Northern Ireland, for what is regarded a destination sports event.
Keeping the pink theme of the Giro alive once more in Northern Ireland, riders and spectators will witness a sea of the colour as the event goes through two routes - the 58km Strangford route and the 173km Mourne route.
While it's the first time that Northern Ireland will host the Gran Fondo, it is earmarked to return for another two years as it will be supported by Tourism NI again in 2016 and 2017.
Mark Hazelton, Tourism NI's business and planning manager, has signed up for the 173km ride.
He said: "This is not for the faint-hearted but both myself and many of my colleagues are definitely up for the challenge.
"It's a great opportunity for cycling enthusiasts to experience some of the Giro routes for themselves and enjoy the freedom and thrills of riding on closed roads through some of Northern Ireland's most spectacular scenery.
"Doing this for a good cause is extremely motivating. It's great that our efforts will be rewarded through fundraising for Guide Dogs NI as every penny raised will make a life-changing difference to people who are blind or partially sighted."
Guide Dogs NI fundraising manager Lesley Macauley said her organisation was delighted to work with Tourism NI as charity partner.
She added: "We're here to make sure that when someone loses their sight they don't lose their freedom as well. As our work is entirely funded by public donation, our partnership with Tourism NI will raise much needed funds, but we are also working closely with the team to advise on how Northern Ireland can become a truly accessible destination for people living with sight loss from all over the world."
A spokesman from Tourism NI said it expected the Gran Fondo would increase awareness of Northern Ireland as a premium cycling and tourism destination.
For non-riders and families there will also be a two-day Giro Village with activities and amusements at Titanic Quarter, including a special street velodrome which is coming to Northern Ireland for the first time.
- For route and road closure information visit www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk and www.granfondogiroditaliani.com
5 Gran Fondo Velodrome facts
Riders will be registered and fitted for a Quella race bike (over 16) or a Cuda bike (three to 15) before queuing for their turn on the tract.
Only two riders allowed on track at any time.
Riders will get coaching to ensure they can ride the banking safely.
Coaches will be Katie Ford (who rides for the Velotec team) and Italian Mario Presi (who rides for the ProCook team).
Total time in event space about 20 minutes. This includes 8 minutes on track, including head to head pursuit race.
The street velodrome at Titanic Belfast is free and available from 10am-5pm this Saturday and Sunday.