Viva Italia! Belfast saddles up for the Giro
One of the most prestigious cycling events in the world is coming to Northern Ireland next year – bringing with it up to £10 million worth of benefits.
As revealed in Saturday's Belfast Telegraph, organisers of the Giro d'Italia have confirmed that the 2014 race will start in Belfast and, over the course of three days from May 10-12, move on to Armagh and then across the border to Dublin before continuing in Italy.
The Grande Partenza or 'Big Start' of the 104-year Giro is normally hosted in Italy, but every two years it is taken to another nation, with Northern Ireland chosen for next year.
The glamour event will begin at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast on May 10 where thousands will assemble to watch 200 professional cyclists start the race, which is rated just behind the Tour de France in terms of importance and prestige in the cycling world.
It is hoped that Tour de France winner and Olympic champion Sir Bradley Wiggins will compete next year.
What is certain is that everyone involved in the Giro d'Italia believes Northern Ireland will prove the perfect host and in turn the economic benefits will provide a huge boost here.
The race will attract around £10m of international media exposure, as well as thousands of tourists plus, of course, the teams and riders. It is estimated a figure of around £4.2m will be required to bring the event to Ireland, with around £3m sought from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry and the EU.
Belfast City Council has confirmed support of £400,000, while Failte Ireland will fund the Dublin leg of the event. Negotiations to stage the event here started last year, with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, in association with the Belfast City Council and promoters Shadetree Sports, proving successful in their bid.
While the leader in the Tour de France wears a yellow shirt, the leader in the Giro d'Italia wears pink.
In keeping with that theme at yesterday's launch of the event in Belfast, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said that Northern Ireland was "tickled pink" to host the start of the race.
She added: "Northern Ireland now has several years' experience of organising world-class sporting and cultural events.
"By hosting the Giro d'Italia, we will further strengthen the competitive position of our tourism industry and contribute to the economy in both the short and long terms.
"Everyone involved in the race will receive a breathtaking welcome from Northern Ireland and the Republic.
"Plans are already in motion to make the occasion a fabulous celebration worthy of Italian cycling traditions and the maglia rosa (pink jersey) itself.
"We are determined to make the start of the 2014 Giro d'Italia one of the most memorable in its long history," she added.
The head of the Giro d'Italia and managing director of Italian race organiser RCS Sport, Michele Acquarone, went one better, stating: "Belfast would provide THE most memorable start in the event's history. It will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event."
Belfast Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson added: "I have no doubt the unforgettable excitement and unprecedented hype that surrounded the MTV awards here will at least be matched when one of the world's most iconic and famous sporting events – the Giro d'Italia – begins in Belfast."