We're set to shine as giro puts us on the map
The wait is over as riders get in gear for Big Start
The eyes of the world are once again firmly fixed on Northern Ireland as the wheels are set in motion for the start of the long-awaited Giro d'Italia.
Belfast has been tickled pink and already given a Big Benvenuto – or welcome – to the Big Start of the famous race.
And over the next couple of days Northern Ireland will be showing off its positive side as hundreds of the world's top cyclists take to the roads.
Scenes of our most stunning and beautiful landscapes will form the backdrop to the action, and will be beamed to a global audience running in to the hundreds of millions. There are a host of activities and events for spectators over the next few days – but for the competitors, the festivities are over and the work starts.
More than 200 of the world's most renowned cyclists will be pedalling through our streets as the first event kicks off today.
It is costing about £4.2m to stage the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland, but organisers believe the event will pay for itself many times over in the long term. The world's second-largest cycle race is expected to generate about £2.5m alone from visitors who come to watch the opening stages.
Tourism bosses have said the race will generate publicity worth at least £10m in the long term.
More than 140,000 visitors are expected to attend the races with around 42,000 from outside Northern Ireland.
Last year's Giro was broadcast in 174 countries and reached 125 million households and a global audience of about 775 million.
Since 1931 the overall leader of the Giro d'Italia wears the maglia rose (pink jersey). The colour was chosen because La Gazzetta dello Sport – the newspaper that created the race – was printed on pink-coloured paper.
Northern Ireland has embraced Giro fever and has been blushing pink for weeks.
Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín ó Muilleoir led the way by dying his hair.
Restaurants, cafes and bars have also turned pink with even Northern Ireland's world-famous yellowman candy turning a rosy hue in its traditional Ballycastle home.
This afternoon the Giro gets off to a speedy start when the team time trials get under way in Belfast.
Titanic Belfast will be at the centre of a hub of activity as Stage 1 starts.
The Giro Paddock at Titanic Quarter is open from 9am to 8pm and houses the Fan Zone with celebrities, competitions exhibits, food and wine.
The riders' final warm-up begins at 5pm and the Team Time Trial starts at 5.45pm and will be travelling past the Stormont Estate.
Tomorrow it starts again in Belfast before it winds around the Causeway Coast.
And on Sunday it has its final day starting in Armagh and finishing up in Dublin.
The riders will then have a well-deserved rest day before they leave our shores and head to the Italian section of the race, beginning in Giovinazzeo on the Adriatic coast on May 13.
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 information visit www.trafficwatchni.com/giro