What is Giro d'Italia and what to expect
Northern Ireland will be awash with pink this May when the Giro d'Italia pays a visit to our shores.
The Giro is one of the world's most prestigious sporting events, and every other year its opening stages are held outside its home country of Italy. The organisers chose Northern Ireland for 2014 because of our magical landscapes, quality roads that are ideal for the race, the iconic architecture of our cities and the warmth and enthusiasm of our people.
What is the Giro d'Italia?
• The Giro d'Italia is a long distance, multi-stage bicycle road race for professional cyclists. It is held primarily in Italy, over a three-week period in May and June each year.
• The Giro is one of the European cycling calendar's three Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
• The first Giro d'Italia was held in 1909. 2014 will mark the 97th event – it was suspended twice, during the two World Wars.
• Like all multi-stage cycling races, the person who crosses the finish line first on the final day is not necessarily the winner. The winner has the overall shortest time for the whole tour.
• The 1909 race had eight stages; the 2014 race will have 21, over 3,450km.
• The route of the Giro varies each year, but the most difficult stages are usually the Alpine and Apennine mountain passes. This year the highest point or 'Cima Coppi', of the race will be the Passo di Stelvio (2,758m) in the Eastern Alps.
• Since 1931, the overall winner of the Giro wears the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey). Pink is the colour of the race's founding sponsor, Italy's La Gazzetta della Sport newspaper. Last year's winner was Italian Vincenzo Nibali.
• In 1987 Stephen Roche became the first cyclist from Ireland to win the Giro. He went on to achieve the 'Triple Crown', which also includes the Tour de France and Road World Cycling Championship.
• The Grande Partenza or 'Big Start' comprises the first three stages of the race. Since 1996, it has been held outside Italy every other year. Previous hosts have included Athens, Nice, Amsterdam and most recently Herning in Denmark in 2012.
What can we expect when the Giro visits Northern Ireland?
• Following a successful bid, we will host the 2014 'Big Start' from 9 – 11 May. We will welcome 200 top riders from over 30 different countries.
• Festivities will kick off on the evening of Thursday 8 May with the Giro d'Italia Opening Event - Come Meet the Riders! in the grounds of Belfast City Hall. This will be a great opportunity to see the teams up close and enjoy the party atmosphere. Unfortunately tickets have now all been allocated. For information on collecting tickets from Visit Belfast see here.
• Day 1 (Friday 9 May) will be the Team Time Trial, starting from the slipways at the iconic Titanic Belfast. The 21.7km route will travel out to Parliament Buildings, Stormont then back towards the city centre via Queens Bridge, the Ormeau Road and Stranmillis, finishing at City Hall.
• Day 2 (Saturday 10 May) will once again start from Titanic Belfast before heading north towards the Causeway Coast and back. Famous attractions along the 218km route will include the Old Bushmills Distillery, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce and Carrickfergus Castles and the Glens of Antrim.
• Day 3 (Sunday 11 May) will start from the historic Cathedral City of Armagh. The 187km cross-border route will travel through County Armagh's famous apple country south to Newtownhamilton, Forkhill and onwards to Dublin.
• There will be festivities and Giro-themed events for all the family, all along the race route, particularly in the start venues of Belfast and Armagh. See here for details of all events.
• After flying out from Ireland, the cyclists will commence the Italian stages of the race on Tuesday 13 May in Giovinazzo on the country's Adriatic Coast, following just one day's rest.