Rathfriland woman Alwynne Shannon was the leading lady at last weekend’s NI Gran Fondo.
The first Giro D’Italia legacy event, over 3,000 cyclists saddled up to race a 173km circuit, starting and finishing at Titanic Belfast.
Those riders included former Giro, Tour de France and world champion road racing cyclist and Gran Fondo ambassador Stephen Roche and Sky Team rider Richie Porte.
Alwynne whizzed through the eye-watering circuit around the Mournes and back to Belfast in a fantastic time of 6:33:33.
That was enough to secure her spot as the first lady across the finish line, an achievement which brought an unexpected bonus.
“I was blissfully unaware that there was a prize for the first lady home so was absolutely surprised and delighted with a superb Boardman bike,” Alwynne said after catching her breath.
The race held extra significance for Alwynne as it passed through her home-town and around a part of the world close to her heart.
“As I came into Rathfriland a cheer went up that certainly helped my legs get up the hill and I don’t think that was just because I was local,” she said.
“All competitors were similarly enthused and this level of support continued on for the whole route.
“The Mournes and Slieve Croob are very special to me and to see them promoted and enjoyed as a great tourist destination was wonderful.
“Despite no respite from hills and climbs it was impossible not to appreciate the sheer beauty of the landscape and the spirit of all those people out there willing us on.
“For me the Gran Fondo Mourne route captured three essential elements for a superb sporting event, a hard challenging safe course, fantastic landscape and community involvement and participation.
“Without doubt, from Belfast to the Mournes, this was seen in abundance and the cyclists appreciated every bit of encouragement as they undertook a route that would equal and surpass many sportifs in the UK and abroad.”
The race turned the streets pink once more as supporters and helpers lined out to relive the Giro D’Italia - efforts thoroughly appreciated by the women’s winner.
“The real heart of the event was PINK. There were pink volunteers on every hill, feed station and elsewhere,” said Alwynne.
“I’ve been a cyclist for the last three years and was also very glad to have the company and camaraderie from other Newry Wheelers who rode the event.
“The greatest thing about cycling is that there is a level for all participants, from the leisure cyclist on a ‘bun run’ to top class racing.
“Special thanks also to the organisers and of course the PSNI for keeping the roads as safe as possible.”
Certainly not one to rest on her laurels, Alwynne is already preparing her new bike for an even greater challenge next month.
“The Gran Fondo was a fantastic training day for my next cycling Challenge, the Tour of Mont Blanc in July.
“However, I suspect the Mourne Gran Fondo will now hold a special place in my heart,” she said.