Gran Fondo 2017 will be bigger than ever: Giro d'Italia chiefs
The 2017 Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI will be the biggest and best one yet, claim organisers. As registration for the third edition of the popular event opens, plans are afoot to take the cycling race in Northern Ireland to a new level to coincide with the 100th Giro d'Italia.
In 2014 the Giro, one of the biggest sporting events in the world, started in Belfast and was a huge success with tens of thousands of spectators turning out for the first three days of competition which were staged in Northern Ireland.
On the back of that, the Gran Fondo - akin to the little brother of the Giro - took place here the following year with 3,200 riders competing.
The numbers increased in 2016 when 4,000 riders took to the roads.
What was so pleasing was that so many were from abroad, helping the tourism sector.
Next year's Gran Fondo will be on Sunday, June 4 - one week after the 100th Giro d'Italia finishes in Milan.
A weekend of activities are planned in Northern Ireland, possibly including a Gran Fondo golf tournament on June 2.
Darach McQuaid, Event Director, said: "The event has quickly gained a reputation as a world class Gran Fondo and this is reflected in the number of out of state participants we saw in 2016, from as far away as New Zealand and North America.
"With the Giro d'Italia celebrating its 100th edition in 2017, we are working with RCS Sport to organise some special events to honour this.
"We are thankful to work with wonderful partners such as Tourism NI, Newry, Mourne & Down Council, Garmin, PSNI and many others."
Mauro Vegni, Giro d'Italia Race Director, added: "2017 will see us celebrating the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia.
"We are planning many special events to mark this milestone in the history of our event.
"The 2014 Big Start in Northern Ireland still resonates strongly with us and we are delighted to see the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI official legacy event growing bigger and bigger every year."
As has been the case in the last two years, the 2017 Gran Fondo will be organised on fully policed closed roads, with the Mourne Route (175km) and Strangford Route (58km) designed to appeal to both experienced riders and beginners.
John McGrillen, CEO Tourism NI, said: "The Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia NI is growing into one of Northern Ireland's signature mass participation events.
"It is great to see riders traveling in from all over the world to ride on fully closed roads through our beautiful countryside, over the Mourne Mountains and along Strangford Lough.
"We at Tourism NI are very satisfied to see the event grow and, importantly, create a significant local economic impact and boost to tourism."
Famous riders Richie Porte, Gianni Bugno and Stephen Roche have been part of the Gran Fondo in Northern Ireland.
More big-name stars will arrive to promote and take part in next year's event with the Giro d'Italia trophy, 'Trofeo Senza Fine'.
Riders and fans will be able to get their photo taken with this iconic sports trophy.
With thousands of people expected to be involved, you are advised to register for the 2017 Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia as soon as possible.
You can do so by going online to the official website at www.granfondogiroditaliani.com
You can also access the site through twitter on https://twitter.com/gfgironi and facebook on https://www.facebook.com/gfgironi