Another of cycling's biggest races will start in Britain next year after organisers announced on Thursday that the Giro d'Italia will be flagged off in Northern Ireland. The 2014 edition of one of the sport's three Grand Tour races will begin in Belfast on May 10, kicking off three days of action that will also include a stage finishing in Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland.
Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro and managing director of Italian race organiser RCS Sport, said: "Belfast will provide spectacular backdrops for the 2014 Grand Partenza (Big Start) and will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event."
Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster added: "Plans are already in motion to make the occasion a fabulous celebration worthy of Italian cycling traditions and the maglia rosa (pink jersey) itself."
The news comes after it was announced in December that the first three stages of the 2014 Tour de France will be in England, with two in the northern county of Yorkshire and the third finishing in London. Traditionally, Italy's Giro - in common with the Tour de France - never strayed beyond its own national borders.
But recently both races have opted for starts abroad, with the 104-year-old Giro launched from outside Italy every two years, latterly in Denmark in 2012. Cycling star Bradley Wiggins, who last year became the first British winner of the Tour de France and also won Olympic time-trial gold, confirmed the Giro's prestige by declaring that he wants to win this year's edition above defending his Tour title.
Ireland cycling great Stephen Roche, who won the Giro back in 1987, was present for Thursday's announcement at the Titanic Belfast visitors' center.
"The Giro is maybe distinctive in that it is probably the second biggest event for me, in my opinion (after the Tour de France)," he said. "When you consider the passion these people have, the passion these people have shown to us this morning, it is duplicated throughout the whole Italian nation."
He recalled that in 1987 the crowds were warm and enthusiastic.
"When you see all the people on the roadsides of Italy, the enthusiasm of poor and rich, they all come together for this event," Roche said, adding that the support he received during the Giro spurred him to success in the Tour de France. "It gave me a lot of extra confidence for the Tour," he said. "Then you are surfing the wave and you become, I would not say unbeatable, but the fact that you have one big win under your belt, it makes the rest much more possible."