Cyclists from Portadown, Richhill and Scarva played a part as Northern Ireland’s love affair with the Giro d’Italia continued on Sunday.
The feelgood factor generated by last year’s Giro d’Italia Big Start around Ireland received a summer boost last weekend with over 3,000 participants on board across the two routes from Titanic Belfast.
Richhill-born Stephen Gallagher - charged with the responsibility of planning the Big Start route in 2014 - was back at the drawing board to map out a Giro d’Italia Gran Fondo challenge that offered runs of 173 kilometres or 53 kilometres.
The former professional cyclist spotted a number of familiar faces at the finish line on Sunday as riders from Richhill’s Shelbourne Orchard, Scarva-based Velo Club Iveagh and Portadown Cycling Club headed for home.
Ruth Mason, the chairperson of Portadown Cycling Club, described completing the “once-in-a-lifetime challenge” as an “amazing experience”.
“It was so great to see Stephen cheering everyone on at the finish line and the Gran Fondo proved a brilliant extension of last year’s Giro d’Italia legacy,” she said. “Our club, for example, can now boast around 80 members and the sport is certainly thriving, especially in this area.
“It was a brilliant opportunity to race along closed roads and the support from the public was superb, alongside a real sense of camaraderie between the riders.
“Cyclists would help each other out with punctures or hand over energy bars and the general public really turned out in force to cheer us on.
“You could see the public enjoying the cycling from deck chairs at the side of the road, plus the police would be shouting encouragement and children had hands out for ‘high fives’.
“After the finish my phone was bleeping away with text messages of congratulations from other cyclists and club members.
“The route featured some major climbs around the Mourne Mountains and covering 173 kilometres in around eight hours was a major test.
“However, I had put a lot of work into the preparation, in terms of training and nutrition, to help me take on such a massive challenge.
“I will never forget the day and am just buzzing to have finished.”