Gianni Bugno gearing up for Northern Ireland Gran Fondo
Gran Fondo fever has moved up a gear with the announcement that cycling legend Gianni Bugno will participate in this year's event in Northern Ireland.
Top riders from across the world will be racing on the province's roads and Bugno's support is a significant coup for organisers.
The news, confirmed by Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia Northern Ireland - the official legacy event of the 2014 Giro Big Start - will generate even more interest in the huge event this summer.
Bugno, the 1990 Giro d'Italia Champion and double World Champion (1991/92), will travel to Belfast to ride in the Gran Fondo on June 5.
The 52-year-old Swiss ace said: "Since I saw how successful the 2014 Giro d'Italia Big Start was and how passionate the people in Northern Ireland were about cycling, it has been a big ambition of mine to come to ride my bike in Northern Ireland and experience the spectacular scenery.
"Being able to participate in the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI is a great honour for me and I look forward to riding with everyone this June."
Ireland's 1987 Giro d'Italia champion Stephen Roche will be lending his support to the race with many other famous names expected to join the carnival.
Darach McQuaid, Gran Fondo organiser, said: "For the event, it will be a big thrill to welcome Gianni Bugno alongside Stephen Roche and give our participants the chance to ride with such big champions on the roads of Northern Ireland this June.
"We have many exciting new developments for the event, which we will announce in the coming weeks. Registration is filling up, don't lose the opportunity to register now."
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said: "The Gran Fondo is another great opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland on the world stage.
"With global interest expected and international participants travelling to Northern Ireland, our tourism industry will once again be in full swing as we prepare to impress visitors with our warm welcome and hospitality.
"I would encourage all cycling enthusiasts to register for the Gran Fondo. As a major legacy of the hugely successful 2014 Giro d'Italia, the Gran Fondo will go some way to giving participants that true Giro experience."
Riders will lap up the stunning scenery including the 173km Mourne Route, featuring over 2,500 metres of climbing over the mountains.
The Strangford section is 58km and brings the riders along a spectacular route alongside Strangford Lough. Both routes are on fully closed, policed roads.
New charity partner, Co-operation Ireland, will see funds raised by teams participating and a gala fund raising dinner on Friday, June 3 in Coppi Restaurant.
The weekend of Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI will also incorporate the NI Bike Festival and includes the Street Velodrome competition, which will give riders of all ages the opportunity to compete on a velodrome.
On the Saturday, the Sustrans NI organised "Piccolo Fondo" will take place again allowing kids of all ages to ride in and finish over the official Gran Fondo finish line. The Giro d'Italia trophy, 'Trofeo Senza Fine' will be on site at the Giro Expo in the Titanic Exhibition Centre and will be available for riders and fans to get their photo taken.
The Giro Expo will take place on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5. Saturday's registration, cycle industry and Food NI vendors, post-ride pasta party and Street Velodrome will all be located near the Titanic Belfast start/finish.