The 2016 Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia saw thousands of cyclists tackling some of the most historic and iconic climbs in Northern Ireland. Fully closed roads made the event a truly once in a lifetime experience for all participants.
On Sunday the 4th of June 2017 the 174km loop will pass over mountains and hills steeped in Irish history with the opportunity to view the beauty of the country from the highest mountain peaks to the Loughs and sea.
Upon starting at the iconic seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont Estate you will leave the city on the rolling and twisting roads of County Down to guide you towards to mountain roads that will greet you after 42km. First up is the steep Monte Dree Hill, which has the ancient Slieve Croobas a backdrop. This is a designated area of natural beauty with the source of the River Lagan starting as a stream from the top of this mountain and running all the way to Belfast Lough. After the country lanes and smooth twisting roads descending off your first climb, you will begin your passage through towns and villages such as the hilltop towns of Rathfriland and Hilltown as you head closer to the biggest mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mourne Mountains. You will ride up the gradual climb of Monte Leitrim Hill with the beautiful Carlingford Lough in the background with its high mountain slopes surrounding this exceptional sea inlet.
Once over Monte Leitrim you will ride further into the Mourne Mountains where you will be at the foot of the jewel of the Gran Fondo Northern Ireland, the climb of Monte Spelga Dam. The steep switchbacks and the high peaks will greet your entrance to this climb which will see you hit the “roof” of the Gran Fondo with the highest elevation for the route at its peak. Views across Co. Down to Co. Armagh is both breathtaking and spectacular with one of Northern Ireland’s largest reservoirs in sight once you hit the top of the mountain. You will stay in the Mourne Mountains as you descend alongside Tollymore Forest Park and into the village of Bryansford before starting the homeward trip and the last challenges that await you.
Passing through Castlewellan with its wide main street which runs through two main squares lined with chestnut trees, the fast descent out of the town will be a nice reprieve before you begin the last climb of the day to Monte Slieve Croob. This long climb will once again take you to a peak that will pass through the ancient hills. Folklore tells that 12 kings are buried at the top of the mountain. You will be greeted at the top with views to Lough Neagh and many of Northern Ireland’s counties and towns.
Your last leg home will pass through Dromara town and into Saintfield on rolling roads before the gradual descending through Moneyreagh and into the historical town of Comber. The final leg of your Gran Fondo will provide you with stunning hilltop views of Stormont House as you begin the homeward journey through Dundonald and back through the famous gates and onto Prince of Wales Avenue with just one last effort that will see you across the finish line and secure that Gran Fondo medal. What an achievement! You can now relax and swap tales of your journey with fellow travellers at the post-event pasta party!