Giro d'Italia: 50th Tour the perfect scene setter
Giro d'Italia fever adds spice to this weekend's 50th edition of the famous Tour of the North cycle race.
The first of the Irish stage races, promoted by Ballymena RC, will provide a taster for the big event three weeks hence.
The race begins today with a 68 mile loop beginning in Ballymena and taking in a section of the Antrim coast.
There are two stages on Easter Sunday – a short two mile Time Trial followed by a 68 mile circuit race in the afternoon, based on the Claddy circuit outside Randalstown.
The event concludes on Monday with a 72 mile stage, taking in climbs and Cam Forest and Springwell Forest, returning to Ballymena via Rasharkin and Cullybackey.
The race has attracted a top quality field with former winner Andrew Moss returning with a very strong Velosure Giordana team from England who must start as favourites. The local riders however will not fear the big names and there are quite a few who hope to claim the coveted Yellow Jersey.
Cycling Ulster-Slane Cycles have entered a five man squad led by Belfast's Peter Hawkins who is currently based with the English professional outfit Team IG-Sigma Sport.
Supporting Hawkins on the provincial squad will be Donegal's Mark Buchanan, Jude Sands from Newry, Foyle CC junior Ryan Reilly and Gareth McKee from Banbridge.
The Irish national team will be comprised solely of junior riders but manager Martin O'Loughlin will be expecting some good results, especially from Edddie Dunbar. This young Cork rider has dominated the junior scene this year and is well able to put it up to the senior cyclists.
Another team worth watching over the weekend will be Northern-Dave Kane. Fraser Duncan, who leads the squad, has been a prolific winner from the start of the season and alongside him will be Adam Armstrong, a former winner of the Tour of the North.
The squad also includes Mark Kane who raced as a professional in France and has represented Ireland at Olympic level.
* Free tickets for the team presentation and 'meet the riders' event for the launch of Giro d'Italia on Thursday, May 8 will be available from 9am on Thursday, April 24 from Visit Belfast offices on Donegall Square North or online from www.visit-belfast.com.
The event is from 6.30pm until 9.00pm in the grounds of City Hall. The tickets will be allocated on a first come first served basis and are limited to two per person.