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Grand Fondo: Crowds expected to flock to watch mini Giro d'Italia

Organisers of this weekend's Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia believe that Northern Ireland's new-found passion for cycling could help the event grow throughout the world.

After the massive success of last year's Giro d'Italia, when fans lined the streets and roads to cheer on the riders, the race's associated amateur sportive makes the first of three visits to the province on Sunday.

Competitors are able to undertake either a 110-mile or 36 miles ride that will begin and end in the Titanic Quarter, and with over 3,000 enthusiasts signed up to take part, Paolo Bellino, managing director of RCS Sports, who along with Shadetree Sports organise both this event and the Giro d'Italia, has been thrilled by the response of the public.

"There will be huge amounts of participants and a fantastic track so we are more than happy that everything seems to be going so well," he said.

"It's a fantastic event and I'm very happy that it seems it will get bigger in Northern Ireland.

"When we first talked about bringing the Gran Fondo Giro D'Italia to Northern Ireland it was one year and one month ago when we were there for the Giro d'Italia.

"To go from then to now, to see how the event will go, it makes us very happy that we decided to come back.

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"It's a great city."

With nothing but fond memories of his visit to the province for last year's Grande Partenza, Bellino hopes the crowds this weekend will display similar zeal.

"Everything was perfect last year, it was a fantastic occasion, and I think it will be the same this time," he said.

"The warm welcome that we received with the fans for the three days we were in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was absolutely amazing.

"When we saw how many people wanted to watch, it just made us want to do more events in Northern Ireland so I'm more than happy that we are back."

As well as thousands of amateurs, the event will also see Team Sky's Richie Porte and 1987 Triple Crown winner Stephen Roche traverse the course and their combined star power is sure to see cycling fans once again turn out in numbers.

"It's a fantastic thing to have Richie Porte and Stephen Roche coming to the event," Bellino enthused.

"They are both great champions.

"They have done well in Giro d'Italia so that is even better.

Launched only in 2012, with a pair of races held in Pasadena and Miami, the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia is a relatively young endeavour.

Races have already taken place in Austria and Italy this year, while visits to Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica and Holland are in the pipeline.

With the aim to see the race taken all over the world, Bellino hopes that this weekend can be used as a future example of both how successful and beneficial the race can be.

"We want to have each year that we are coming to Northern Ireland to be bigger than the one before.

"We want to see the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia go to cities across the world, to link cycling fans across all the different countries," he added.

"A good event in Northern Ireland will help us do that."