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Kane in the pink once again as Gran Fondo Northern Ireland is lauded by Gianni Bugno

By Stuart McKinley

Mark Kane wrote his name into the history books last year by winning the first Giro d'Italia Gran Fondo to be held in Northern Ireland.

And now the man who spends his working life surrounded by bikes is in the pink again.

The Giro legacy event, which has been staged here since the main showpiece had its opening 'the Big Start' in Northern Ireland two years ago, attracted a massive 4,000 competitors across the two routes, with Kane crossing the line first for the second year in succession.

He completed the 175km Mourne Route in just over five hours - and that was after being on the start line at 7.45am.

"I'm delighted - absolutely over the moon," said Mark.

"I won last year and I was hoping to repeat it, so I am really pleased."

More: Sun-kissed Gran Fondo a stunning spectacle

One of only 12 Gran Fondo events across the globe, so pleased are organisers with its popularity in Northern Ireland - which brought participants from countries around the world including Australia, USA, Canada, Italy, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Germany, Malaysia, Spain, England, Scotland, Wales and Republic of Ireland - that they are already planning next year's event.

In blazing sunshine throughout the day, which made the already spectacular scenery around County Down even more picturesque, others didn't get around as fast as Mark and some of the other more competitive cyclists, with riders finishing the course throughout the next few hours.

The shorter, but no less scenic, 58km Strangford Route proved popular with those seeking a more sedate Sunday ride.

There was, however, a family double. While Mark's 75-year-old dad David rode the shorter route, his David Kane Cycles team won the team race for the Mourne cycle.

Alistair Ross, who is now a Junior Minister in the new Stormont executive, was among the riders in the field and he is hoping to play a part in making it a fixture on the Northern Ireland sporting calendar.

"This was the second year that I participated in the Gran Fondo and it was fantastic to see the event grow from last year," he said.

"It is never easy to deliver an event of this size, but the efforts of event organisers, police and volunteers who managed close to 4,000 riders on the day deserves a special mention."

More: Gran Fondo cyclist 'lucky to be alive' after Belfast car crash

The Giro d'Italia Big Start was one of the most successful events we have ever hosted in Northern Ireland, and the Fondo is the perfect legacy event which allows cyclists of all abilities to get the experience of challenging routes on closed roads.

Ross added: "Very few countries around the world have the privilege of hosting the Gran Fondo and I would hope that it can become a regular fixture on the calendar here as cycling continues to grow in popularity."

Former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche joined the riders on the route and was then on stage at the end to present the medals alongside Italian cycling legend Gianni Bugno, who won the Giro d'Italia in 1990.

Such was his experience over an exciting weekend that Bugno has promised to come back to Northern Ireland.

"I was very happy to be invited by Shadetree Sports and RCS Sport to ride Sunday's Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI which was an incredible experience," he said.

More: Gran Fondo 'was really great fun, I can't wait to do it again next year'

"The people of Northern Ireland clearly appreciate cycling and have fallen in love with the Giro d'Italia.

"On Saturday we went for a quiet ride and I was very impressed how so few drivers honked their horns… not like we have in Italy.

"I am looking forward to returning to Northern Ireland very soon."

Darach McQuaid of event organisers Shadetree Sports said: "We could not be more pleased with how the second edition of Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI turned out. The atmosphere at Titanic Quarter over the weekend was magic.

"The Gran Fondo is growing and we are very ambitious for it in the years to come. I would like to thank all of the riders for their determination."

Belfast Telegraph

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