A Gran Fondo run by RCS, the organisers of the Giro d’Italia, will take place in Northern Ireland for the next three years with the first edition scheduled for June 2015. Arlene Foster, minister of enterprise, trade and investment says that hosting such events will help pave the way for a possible bid to host the Tour de France.
"We will continue to work with other event holders and hopefully they will see us as somewhere they should come to in the future," said Foster about Tour organisers, ASO.
Gran Fondos are aimed at amateur cyclists who are looking for a recreational ride with a competitive slant. Two potential routes have been identified – one 177 kilometres and the other 59 kilometres, with both starting and finishing at Titanic Belfast. A number of cycling activities will also take place on the day before the main event across Northern Ireland. Organisers are hoping for at least 4,000 entrants in the first year, building up to 8,000 by the third year.
Foster said it was important to build on the legacy of hosting the Giro d’Italia.
"The 2014 Giro d'Italia captured the imagination of the people of Northern Ireland and was hailed as a resounding success by the organisers, who were bowled over by the warmth of our welcome and enthusiasm. Cyclists are now coming to ride the Giro stages and other routes across Northern Ireland and we want to capitalise on that interest.”
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board secured the rights for the events from RCS and its Irish partners, Shadetree Sports, at a cost of £400,000. Shadetree Sports’ director, Darach McQuaid – the younger brother of former UCI president, Pat McQuaid – told the Belfast Telegraph that the event is about promoting Northern Ireland as a cycling destination.
“We aim to make Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Northern Ireland one of the best in the world and one which will attract riders from all around the globe to ride on Northern Ireland’s roads and experience the warmth of the welcome here, along with the unique Giro theme.
"Being part of this growing global series will give us the ability to market Northern Ireland as a leading cycling destination and attract new visitors. There will be strong engagement with the local communities the event will pass through and our aim will be to create the “pink magic” that was done so well in May during the Big Start.”