Ireland gears up for Giro
Cycling's prestigious Giro d'Italia will begin in Ireland next year, organisers have confirmed.
The cross-border start to one of the sport's three Grand Tour races will be held over three stages from May 10-12 and will involve routes taking in Belfast, Armagh and Dublin.
Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro and managing director of Italian race organiser RCS Sport, said: "Belfast will provide spectacular backdrops for the 2014 Grand Partenza (Big Start) and will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event."
The news follows the announcement in December that the first three stages of the 2014 Tour de France will be in England, with two in Yorkshire and the third finishing in London.
The start of the 104-year-old Giro is normally hosted in Italy but in recent times has been awarded to an outside country every two years, most recently in Denmark last year.
More than 200 of the top professional cyclists from across the globe will be in Northern Ireland to take part and there will be a supporting programme of events and activities. The Giro is expected to attract around £10million worth of international media coverage.
Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster said: "Plans are already in motion to make the occasion a fabulous celebration worthy of Italian cycling traditions and the maglia rosa (pink jersey) itself."
Sir Bradley Wiggins has said he will focus on the Giro this year rather than defending his Tour de France title.
There is a strong Irish connection with the Giro, with Stephen Roche winning the race in 1987.
First organised in 1909 to promote the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, the Giro is now one of the world's largest sporting events, watched at roadside by 12.5million spectators over the three weeks of the event.