Giro d'Italia: Belfast weather will prove to be a main obstacle
Northern Ireland's spring weather may just be the missing ingredient the Giro d'Italia needed.
While the flat stages around the Irish coast are unlucky to entice any significant breakaways, the promise of rain and wind could stir up the peloton.
Today's team time trial was always going to be of key significance. Teams spend hours on the road, in wind tunnels and in meetings honing their technique and form.
Little is left to chance and while the race won't be won or lost today, it can put certain contenders at an immediate disadvantage.
Cadel Evans has already underlined the importance of not losing time around the streets of Belfast.
Another rider expected to challenge for the overall victory this year, Joaquim Rodriguez, knows exactly how costly that can be.
His Katusha squad lost 62 seconds back in 2011 – the last time the team time trial featured in the Giro – and eventually 'El Purito' missed out on the podium by just a few seconds.
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A crash or puncture, even at this early stage, can shatter dreams of the maglia rosa.
The dangers of this particular stage may not seem so evident.
There won't be the massive peloton that heads up to the Giant's Causeway to navigate the narrow coastal roads tomorrow.
Rather, teams of nine will set off individually, with the clock their only opponent.
A combination of difficult turns and Belfast weather will, however, put particular demands on all the riders.
Rain is forecast for the morning's practice run and while it is expected to dry up as the afternoon progresses, teams will need to venture with care.
Indeed, it may be that those who depart latest who benefit most if the roads do dry.
Each squad will look to set an early pace and reach speeds of around 55kph, but a series of turns between the Titanic Quarter and the Newtownards Road could spell danger for those looking to ease into the stage.
The trip towards Stormont is the lengthiest climb of the team time trial but, after reaching the summit, riders will need to be alert for the dangerous return to the main road via the tricky civil service grounds.
Some further sharp turns await as the teams progress towards the Ormeau Road, but it is the hairpin turn towards Queen's University from Stanmillis College –and the climb which awaits – which could see stragglers left behind.Interactive Graphic: Giro d'Italia route
Events to look out for
The pedals are poised and riders are ready – but there's plenty for the public to see and do too as the Giro d'Italia gets under way.
The fun starts today at Titanic Belfast and around the Titanic Quarter.
Make sure you get the best viewing spot for all the action by getting to your destination early and pay attention to any road closures happening near you.
Keep your eyes pealed for the Giro Caravan. A colourful celebration which brings a carnival atmosphere to the race as it arrives before the racers and gets cycling fans whipped in to a frenzy. Spectators are advised to be in position one hour and 45 minutes before the Giro Caravan arrives.
A hub of activity will be happening as the teams prepare for their Team Time Trial housed within the Giro Paddock.
Spectators will get a unique glimpse at the professional cyclists warming up before the action starts at 5.45pm.
The Giro Paddock is open from 9am to 8pm and has a Fan Zone with celebrities, competitions, exhibits and food and wine.
The Team Time Trial leaves from Titanic Belfast and pedals up to the Stormont Estate where there will be an Italian-themed free family festival in full swing. Go Stormont starts at 8am and lasts until 10pm that night and you can watch the action live on a large outdoor screen.
It finishes at Belfast City Hall at around 8pm. An eight-day festival called Get on Yer Bike will keep locals and visitors entertained. Tomorrow, book yourself in for a Belfast Music Bus Tour departing at noon from the Ulster Hall – a journey through the heart of a great rock and roll city. Booking is required.
Writers Square and Cathedral Gardens will be a hive of activity as the Sustrans Cycle Skills Obstacle Course lets the public have a go manoeuvring around a specially designed obstacle course.
Or why not have a go at the nail-biting slow bike race? Last bike over the line wins. Writers' Square will host Ramp-Rage's live freestyle BMX show throughout the day.
Expect big air and big beats as the extreme sports crew bring their crazy antics to Belfast city centre.
Racing starts again tomorrow from Belfast at 10.50am and moves along the scenic Causeway Coastal Route.
It ends at Belfast City Hall at around 3.55pm. The race kicks off at 11.45am on Sunday from Armagh before it rides on to Dublin for 4pm.
Traffic alert as roads set to close
Northern Ireland's biggest ever traffic management plan swings into action today.
Drivers are advised to factor in extra time for journeys and plan ahead, as more than 200 miles of roads close for parts of today and over the weekend.
As the practice session and Stage 1 get under way today, many roads from Belfast city centre to Stormont and main roads in the south of the city will be closed from 9.30am to 12.30pm and 4pm until 8.30pm. Park and Ride facilities at Cairnshill, Black's Road and Sprucefield will be open longer, with the last bus departing the city centre at 9.30pm.
There will be additional capacity on rail and bus services to get people home.
There will be rolling road closures tomorrow starting in Belfast at 8.30am and continuing north thoughout mid-Antrim then back along the north and east Antrim coast from 8am-5pm.
Translink will operate a dedicated shuttle train between Great Victoria Street and Central Station to the Titanic Quarter station from 7.30am until 4pm.
For the final leg of the Big Start a special return coach service from the Europa Bus Centre to Armagh will be available to pre-book. For those wishing to watch the finish in Dublin, Translink will operate an extra return cross-border rail service.
It must be pre-booked online.
There are some crossing points which will allow for limited vehicle access along the route, but these will be closed for long periods of time for the race.
For more traffic information visit trafficwatchni.com/giro