The green fields of Northern Ireland were tinged with pink once again this year as thousands of people took part in the Gran Fondo bike race.

Sunday's event, a spin-off of last year's Giro d'Italia grand tour which started in the country, saw around 2,100 amateur cyclists brave the unseasonal wind and cold to complete the main 173km loop, with another 1,100 taking a shorter 58km route.

Unlike many sportives, mass-participation bike races which are popular across Europe, the Gran Fondo riders enjoyed a completely vehicle-free morning with extensive road closures across Northern Ireland's south-east.

The day had started early at the Titanic Quarter in central Belfast where the two groups of riders, led out by former Giro d'Italia and Tour de France champion Stephen Roche and Team Sky's Richie Porte, headed south into County Down.

Paul Kane crosses the finish line (Picture: Discover Northern Ireland)

"Northern Ireland just fell in love with the Giro last year and to see 3,200 cyclists rolling down the Titanic slipway this morning was a real sight to behold," event organiser Darach McQuaid told

Cheered along by thousands who lined the route with flags and banners in the Giro's trademark pink, the first riders on the main Mourne route started to trickle back into Belfast after midday.

Local brothers Mark and Paul Kane celebrated a one-two, with the former taking the honours in a time of 5:11:14.

"There were hundreds here yesterday [Saturday] at registration lining up to have their picture taken with the trophy and there's just been such a good atmosphere around the whole event," McQuaid added.

"To see so many cheering out on the course despite the weather... I'm just really proud of the people."

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