Bravo Giro D'Italia! Now let's get the Tour de France...
The massive success of the Giro d'Italia may attract the world's most prestigious cycling race to Northern Ireland, it was suggested yesterday.
Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) chief executive Alan Clarke said the Tour de France was within reach after the province proved its cycling credentials by hosting the 'Grande Partenza' to widespread acclaim.
Thousands of spectators turned out in Armagh yesterday for a fleeting glimpse of the peloton as the third and final Irish stage of this year's Giro began in the ecclesiastical city.
And, as the world's top cyclists headed south to Dublin, it marked the end of a four-day extravaganza, worth more than £12.5 million to the local economy, according to Mr Clarke.
"The direct economic benefit of the Giro this year will be £2.5m and then the advertising equivalent will be £10m," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The £10m is based on the previous experiences of other destinations who hosted the Big Start, including Denmark and Amsterdam, but that is a conservative estimate because we do think we'll exceed that."
He added: "After the Giro we can sit down and discuss the options regarding the Tour de France. Stephen Roche (1987 winner of both the Tour and the Giro) told me the Tour will be watching how Northern Ireland does the Giro, so it's a possibility for the future..."
The opportunity to see world-class riders like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), along with Irish riders Nicholas Roche (son of 1987 winner Stephen) and Philip Deignan, brought an estimated 140,000 visitors to Northern Ireland over the weekend.
But the event's audience also extended to some 800 million people watching on television in 175 countries across the world. That's a staggering figure and one that dwarfs the £4.2m it cost to bring the 'Fight for Pink' to these shores, according to Mr Clarke.
Northern Ireland was transformed into a country of pink in honour of the signature Giro colour, as the cycling race morphed into a carnival.
It represented the latest in a line of successful, high-profile events to be staged here in recent years. And it was the run of recent high-profile events that convinced Giro organisers Northern Ireland was the best place to host the first stage to be held outside continental Europe.
"Our credibility in hosting major events has really grown; we've had the MTV European Music Awards, the Irish Open, the G8 and the World Police and Fire Games and I think that gave them confidence that we would deliver," said Mr Clarke.
"The Giro organisers are now talking about having a Gran Fondo, which is a public race event for around 1,000 riders, in Northern Ireland for a three-year period so that's could be direct legacy benefit," he said.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who was in Armagh for the final stage of the race, said hosting the event had "lifted Northern Ireland to a new level".
"We have already announced that the Irish Open is returning in 2015 and 2017, and I have every confidence that more major events will follow," she added.
University of Ulster retail expert Donald McFetridge said the worldwide exposure which accrues from hosting international events like the Giro d'Italia "should not be underestimated".