Giro d'Italia: Belfast hosts opening ceremony of greatest cycling race on earth
Full coverage of the Giro 'Big Start' in Belfast
Thousands of eager cycling fans have donned their best pink garb and braved the rain as Belfast welcomed the Giro d'Italia to Northern Ireland.
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The world's greatest cycling race landed in the city on Thursday night, with the official 'Big Start' launch drawing a sold out crowd to welcome the teams taking part in this year's race.
Cycling fans dealt with a mixture of downpours and spells of sunshine as the 22 teams were led out - alongside the Giro's golden trophy.
Almost 6,000 people packed into the grounds of City Hall, with hundreds more gathered outside.
Teams from across Europe, the US and beyond were led on to the stage, with the pomp and ceremony usually reserved for a stadium concert.
And one of Northern Ireland's very own home grown hopefuls, Nicolas Roche, said he was left "speechless" by the response.
Roche said he had expected there would be an 'electric atmosphere' when the world's greatest cycling race came to his home country, but even he was overwhelmed by the crowd response in Belfast on Thursday.
"I am speechless. I was expecting a warm welcome, but this is just way beyond what I thought," he said.
His father, Stephen, was the first Irishman to win the Giro in 1987.
In the same year, he also took the the Tour de France and the World Championship - winning the triple crown.
Sharing the stage with Roche and the other competitors - the glittering golden prize.
A column of spirals in the shape of a tornado with the names of every winner etched on it.
Fellow Irishman, Philip Deignan, of Team Sky - which arguably received some of the loudest applause - said "I never thought I would see the day when I would be able to start the race in my own country so it is amazing".
Thursday's launch is the beginning of what will be one of the biggest events Northern Ireland has ever hosted.
Over the next few days, more than 140,000 visitors are expected to descend - with 42,000 of those coming from outside the country.
This is the 11th year the Big Start will be outside of Italy.
Friday kicks off three days of racing action across Belfast, the Causeway Coast, Glens of Antrim, Armagh and finishing in Dublin.
The four jerseys up for grabs, pink for the leader, red for the competitor with best points classification, blue for the top climber and white for the most promising young rider, were paraded by models catwalk style.
97th staging of the event
During its three days in Ireland, cyclists will travel 426.7km.
Over the three weeks, they will cycle almost 3,450km.
A potential audience of 775 million people is expected across 174 countries.
Expected to generate £2.5m for the economy, with some £10m-worth of international media coverage.
Belfast Telegraph Digital