Benvenuti, Giro d'Italia! The big 50-day countdown begins to one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar
Wheels spinning down to start of greatest sports event we've staged
The final countdown is under way. In 50 days' time the stars of cycling will be pedalling their way through Belfast as one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar comes to Northern Ireland.
Today is an important milestone before the Giro d'Italia starts on May 9. The Grande Partenza or 'Big Start' of the race will see 200 of the world's best cyclists from over 30 countries converge here.
The Giro is expected to attract around 140,000 overnight visitors, 42,000 of them from outside Northern Ireland.
A global audience of 775m will also tune in to watch the cyclists compete along three spectacular routes.
From the backdrop of Titanic Belfast to the stunning scenery of the Causeway coastal route and the historic city of Armagh, the world will see the best of our outstanding natural beauty.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the Giro would be spectacular. She said: "The clock is now ticking as we prepare to host one of the world's greatest sporting events. We have fantastic plans in place to welcome over 200 top professional cyclists from across the globe.
"It will be a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for many local people to witness sporting stars in competition on their doorsteps."
The Giro sits alongside the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana as one of the most prestigious races on the professional circuit.
People will catch their first glimpse of the world's best riders at the team presentation in Belfast on Thursday, May 8 before the competitive action begins the next day with the team time trial from Titanic Belfast to Stormont, finishing up at the City Hall.
The following day will again start from Titanic Belfast before heading north towards the Causeway coastal route and back.
Famous attractions along the 218km route include the Old Bushmills Distillery, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce and Carrickfergus castles and the Glens of Antrim.
The final day's action starts from Armagh city.
The 187km route winds its way through Armagh's apple country before crossing the border, concluding in Dublin with a sprint finish on Upper Merrion Street.
Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche, one of only two cyclists to win the triple crown – the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the World Road Race Championship – said Northern Ireland was in for a true sporting treat. "It's incredible to think that the sporting moment of 2014 is only 50 short days away," he said.
"The towns and cities, famous landmarks and natural beauty of Northern Ireland will be seen by millions on TV over the three days of fierce competition but the warmth and hospitality of the people here will take centre stage as they welcome visitors from across the world and line the route in their thousands to cheer on the riders."
Roche's son Nicholas is one of three Irish riders expected to take part. The others are Dan Martin and Team Sky's Philip Deignan.
With just 50 days remaining, excitement is building and already people along the route are planning to welcome the Giro by turning pink, the race's colours.
Naomi Waite from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board urged people to "be part of the start and plan ahead".
"With thousands of spectators lining the route, the atmosphere will be electrifying so this really is an historic event not to be missed."
Friday, May 9 TITANIC BELFAST-STORMONT-DONEGALL SQUARE NORTH, BELFAST
Spectators can watch riders warm up and mechanics work on their bikes at the Giro team paddocks at Titanic Belfast.
This is where fans can get very close to the riders during their warm-up and will give spectators a great understanding of what goes into the team time trial. Once the race has started at 5.45pm, it will be possible to watch some teams move off before walking the short distance to City Hall to see the teams finish.
Alternatively, spectators at Stormont Estate can see the riders at the most difficult part of the team time trial course.
The rise up to Stormont will test riders, and the estate is putting on big screens and other activities to ensure a festival atmosphere.
Saturday, May 10 - STAGE ONE
The atmosphere at the start line at Titanic Belfast will be special, with spectators able to mingle with the team buses and riders as they prepare for the stage and ride-up to the sign-on podium at Titanic.
Watching the whole race caravan pull out promises to be one of the highlights. There are many points along the coast road which will allow a great view of the race. Some councils are putting on special festivals. Visit discovernorthernireland.com/Giro2014 for more details.
Anyone hoping to watch the race from the coast should note the roads will be closed at least two hours ahead of the riders – so remember to leave enough time.
Sunday, May 11 - STAGE TWO
Stage two Route: Armagh – Dublin Distance: 187km Start time: 11.45am
The cross-border route gets under way in Armagh, and it is possible to catch three stages of the race.
Team buses and riders will converge on The Mall, while the sign-on podium and start will be at the Shambles market.
Spectators should be able to see the riders take off before heading to Dundalk to catch the intermediate sprint.
They should then be able to get back out on the M50 and head straight to Dublin to see the sprint finish on Upper Merrion Street.