THE countdown is on before 150 elite cyclists arrive in Belfast to compete in the biggest annual bike race of the year in the 4 day AmberGreen Energy Tour of Ulster in association with SDS Energy Group and Saltmarine Cars.
Teams from Australia, Holland, Belgium, France, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will congregate at Belfast's Stormont Hotel for registration of the event on Friday, May 1, before they take to their saddles for four stages around the Province after three days of racing on Ulster’s roads.
In tribute to the success of the Giro d’Italia of this time last year, the cyclists will be fighting for the coveted pink leader’s jersey yet again, marking out the fastest man in the race. The first holder of the pink jersey will be decided in a sprint climb time trial from the gates of Stormont, past Carson's monument and race to the top of the hill before descending the avenue to the finish.
Stage 1 - Belfast Prologue – Stormont Estate 2 up race.
Stage 2 - Belfast (Malone Playing Fields, House of Sport) – Carryduff – Saintfield – Crossgar – Downpatrick – Clough – Newcastle (Bryansford Road, Spelga Dam) – Kilkeel – Rostrevor – Hilltown – Rathfriland – Mayobridge – Warrenpoint – Newry.
Stage 3 - Newry – Camlough – Newtownhamilton – Keady – Markethill – Hamiltonsbawn – Richill – Armagh – Caledon – Aughnacloy – Ballygawley (Whitebridge Road) – Pomeroy - Donaghmore – Cookstown.
Stage 4 -Cookstown – William Street – Orritor Road – Tulnacross Road – Flo Road – Omagh Road – Tullagh Road – Fairhill Road – James Street – William Street – Cookstown.
On Saturday the race, which was established in 1957, takes the cyclists from Belfast to the finish in Newry via the Mourne mountains and Spelga Dam. On Sunday the race leaves Newry and onto Armagh before finishing in Cookstown, where it spends two days and takes in the Sperrin Mountains for dramatic racing. Monday is a special circuit race on the May Day Holiday where there will be an activity fun day for all of the family in the centre of Cookstown and a great opportunity to see the cyclists in action.
Organiser Garry Nugent, of BGN Management, said the Tour of Ulster is one of Ireland's longest established cycling races and is encouraging families to come out over the Bank Holiday Weekend to cheer on the cyclists.
He said: "This is yet another opportunity to showcase our beautiful region to cyclists from across the world. It's an opportunity for us to extend the hand of hospitality so we are encouraging everyone to come out at each of the stages to support this race. It will be a fantastic event and I wish to thank all of the sponsors who have supported us this year including our partners AmberGreen Energy, SDS Energy and Saltmarine Cars."
Neil O'Brien, chairman of AmberGreen Energy said: "The momentum for the Tour of Ulster is phenomenal so we are delighted to be the Tour's official partner together with SDS Energy. We look forward to welcoming 150 cyclists from across the globe. This race is reliving the legacy of the Giro d'Italia and will build momentum for the Grand Fondo which takes place in June."
Michael Salt, partner at Saltmarine Cars, said he is delighted Saltmarine is working in association with the tour as the official race vehicle sponsors.
He said: "Cycling is fast becoming one of the most popular sports in Northern Ireland. Last year's Giro d'Italia was a phenomenal opportunity for Northern Ireland and now this year we have the Tour of Ulster. We would like to take this opportunity to wish the riders a safe and successful race and encourage people to enjoy this fantastic weekend of racing."
The AmberGreen Energy Tour of Ulster aims to impact on society and how we engage with sport. It presents Northern Ireland with yet another opportunity to capitalise on cycling enthusiasm, promote the wellbeing of our population and promote our province nationally and internationally.
Over the weekend live race updates will be fed out on Twitter and Facebook and results will be available at each stage, also see www.tourofulster.com