Giro bike race set for N Ireland
Cycling's prestigious Giro d'Italia will begin in Northern Ireland next year, organisers have confirmed.
The cross-border start to one of the sport's most famous 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: "It is a great, huge dream that we had some years ago and today it has become a reality."
The news comes hot on the heels of last month's announcement that the first three stages of the 2014 Tour de France will be in England, two in Yorkshire and the third finishing in The Mall in London.
The start of the 104-year-old Giro - one of the sport's three Grand Tour races with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana - 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 top cyclists from across the globe will be in Northern Ireland to take part.
Precise routes for the three stages have yet to be confirmed. The commercial return to Northern Ireland could be up to £10 million, the region's tourism minister Arlene Foster said, and the cost of hosting the event would be around £4.6 million.
She said the race was expected to attract 140,000 visitors with millions more around the world likely to watch on television.
The minister 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. We are going to cover Northern Ireland in pink."
Sir Bradley Wiggins has pledged to focus on the Giro this year rather than defending his Tour de France title.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal won last year's Giro while previous victors include Ireland's Stephen Roche, who triumphed in 1987, a couple of months before his Tour de France victory.