Legendary cyclist Stephen Roche, who was inducted into the Giro d’Italia Hall of Fame at a ceremony last Tuesday in the Causeway Hotel, Bushmills, has used his position as an ambassador for the NI Tourist Board, to urge people to turn out in force when the international cycle race comes to the province in May.
Roche, who won the Giro in 1987 along with the Tour de France and the World championship, was present not only to receive his unique honour, but to help promote a race that has captured the imagination of many throughout the province.
It is expected that when the race reaches the north coast, tens of thousands will be lining the routes and Mr Roche said that reflected the growing popularity of cycling in general.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment minister, Arlene Foster, was one of the special guests at the ceremony along with Mr. Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of the Tourist Board.
She commented: “We know that Stephen touched greatness when he became only the second person ever to win the triple crown of victories in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and World Championship in 1987. It is fitting that he is being inducted into the Giro Hall of Fame in the same year as the great race comes to Northern Ireland.”
The race, which will be passing through Ballymoney and Moyle on May 10, has sparked a huge wave of interest locally with both Ballymoney and Moyle councils planning spectacular celebrations.
Four locations in Ballymoney will get special attention – the Dunloy Crossroads, Kilraughts and Portrush Road roundabouts and Ballybogey Crossroads.
Each one will be dressed up in pink with flowers, balloons, bunting and general regalia acknowledging the presence of some of the top riders in the world.
Both Dunloy Cycling club and Ballymoney CC will have volunteers co-ordinating events at two of the locations and Ballymoney Rugby Club have pitched in by providing facilities for visitors.
A fun day will be held at Ballybogey and the area will be decked out with pink bunting and streamers.
Traders in Ballymoney are also keen to get behind the celebrations. Cafes are planning food on an Italian theme and an art competition for schools is being organised by Dunloy Cycling club and Ballybogey Community Association.
Corporate Services officer for Ballymoney Council, Liz Johnston, said she was delighted at the support given by traders and cycling enthusiasts.
“Ballymoney is certainly giving the event its best shot,” Liz said.
Community groups and Moyle Council, under the guidance of Sports Development officer, Damian McAfee, are also planning a series of events to mark the race’s arrival in Moyle.
The route along the coast and towards the Glens is expected to see enormous crowds for the riders.