Titanic start for Wiggins and Giro d'Italia
Sir Bradley Wiggins has earmarked the Giro d'Italia's Belfast start as the biggest date in his cycling calendar next year.
It was Wiggins who, in 2012, became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, following up with gold in the time trial at the London Olympics.
But despite his Tour de France success, Wiggins – who rides for Team Sky – has put victory in the 2013 Giro d'Italia at the top of his wish-list.
The Londoner was a keen follower of the race as a youngster, inspiring him to take up the sport.
The Belfast Telegraph broke the sensational news (inset) about the Giro d'Italia's Belfast start back in February.
And tens of thousands are expected to line the streets when Northern Ireland hosts the opening exchanges of the race from Friday, May 9 to Sunday, May 11, the first time the event will begin outside continental Europe.
The Giro d'Italia is one of cycling's three grand tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.
There will be three stages in the province – a 22km time trial around Belfast, a loop around the north coast and a cross border final stage before the race leaves these shores.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster will travel to Milan next week for the official launch of the race, won this year by Italy's Vincenzo Nibali with Britain's Mark Cavendish taking the red points leader's jersey.
The Northern Ireland Executive is paying £3m from Tourist Board, EU and Department of Enterprise (Deti) funds to host the 104-year-old event, which traditionally starts in Italy but in recent times has been awarded to an outside country every other year.
The Belfast route on Friday, May 9 starts at the Titanic Quarter and takes in the Newtownards Road, Stormont, Queen's Bridge, the Ormeau Road, Stranmillis and the city centre.
The Saturday leg – 218km in total – starts on the Antrim Road and travels to Antrim, Ballymena, Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway before following the coastline from Cushendall to Larne and on to Whitehead and Carrickfergus before returning to Belfast.
On Sunday the riders will embark on a 187km cross-border section, leaving Armagh and travelling to Richhill and Newtownhamilton before heading south, crossing the border at Forkhill and racing to Dublin via Dundalk, Castlebellingham and Drogheda.
All the routes are preliminary at this stage, but unlikely to change.
Sinn Fein are unhappy that west Belfast has not been included in the race.
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said: "The image of cyclists going up and down the Falls Road would send out a massive positive signal right across the world.
"This is about advertising the city, this is about promoting the city and nowhere else can do it better than the Falls Road, and I think it's a shame that Deti have excluded west Belfast from this competition.
"What we will see is all other parts of the city being touched and being seen worldwide, except west Belfast, and it is just not good enough.
"We will campaign to meet whoever we have to meet, to ensure this race comes to this part of the city."