With cycling enjoying a huge surge in popularity in North Antrim and across Northern Ireland in general, local bikers will have a golden opportunity to participate in a prestigious race coming to the province next year.

The Gran Fondo is scheduled to take part here for the next three eyars with the first race on June 21 next with hopes that the event might be a prelude to securing the start of the Tour de France.

Following on from the Giro d’Italia the Gran Fondo will put the province firmly in the cycling spotlight and will give amateur riders a golden opportunity to participate.

The route has yet to be confirmed but there are two legs – 177kilometres and another of 59k which should be well within the reach of most keen cyclists. Indeed, the race, which is expected to cross North Antrim, is designed to cater for cyclists of all abilities across the world.

It is thought that some 4000 cyclists will take part in the inaugural event and many will undoubtedly come from clubs in Ballymoney, Ballycastle, Causeway, Dunloy, Loughgiel and Glens. Such is the interest in cycling here that there’s bound to be a rush to register.

Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster, said at the launch: “This will again put us into the spotlight in terms of hosting these sorts of events and we are always looking to host big events here in Northern Ireland.

“We will continue to work with other event holders and hopefully they will see us as somewhere they (Tour de France organisers) should come to in the future.”

Andrea Trabuio, Head of Mass Events at the Giro d’Italia’s organisers, RCS, said: “We have a target of 4,000 people in the first year but we are sure we will have more, then 6,000 and then 8,000 in three years - we are very ambitious.