One of the world’s greatest cycling events is coming to Ireland in 2014. The Giro d’Italia’s “Grande Partenza”, the big start, will be held over three stages on both sides of the border from 10-12 May.
Two stages will be held in Belfast on days one and two of the race, before moving on to Armagh, and then finishing in Dublin on day three.
The race is one of the sports three Grand Tour events, the other two being the Vuelta a Espana and the Tour de France.
The start of the Giro is traditionally hosted in Italy but recently an outside country has hosted the event every two years, most recently in Denmark. Such is the prestige and draw of the race to cyclists that Sir Bradley Wiggins has said that he will focus on the Giro this year, rather than defending his Tour de France title.
News of the Giro coming to Ireland coincides with the announcement in December that the opening three stages of the Tour de France will also be held in the British Isles in 2014. The picturesque county of Yorkshire will host two of the stages with the third finishing at the Mall in London.
Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro said, “Belfast will provide spectacular backdrops for the 2014 Grand Partenza and will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event.”
The event is expected to attract 140,000 visitors to Northern Ireland as well as over £10 million in international media coverage. More than 200 of the top professional cyclists from around the world will descend upon Northern Ireland, with a supporting programme of events and activities also being planned.
Tourism minister Arelene Foster said the event will showcase Northern Ireland, “On a local, national and international stage and raise the profile and change perceptions of Northern Ireland both in terms of a great venue for cycling as well as a great place to vist, work, study and invest in.”
Mrs Foster said the Giro d’Italia will mark yet another event which Northern Ireland can add to its list of having hosted in recent times.
She said, “2012 was a significant year for tourism which has already put Northern Ireland on the map for all the right reasons. Including the sell out Irish Open, and the completion of iconic visitor attractions at the Causeway Coast and Titanic Belfast.
“The 2013 events programme is another big step forward for tourism as Londonderry takes up its title as the UK City of Culture. World leaders descend upon Fermanagh in June for the G8 summit, and thousands participate in the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast this August.”
The Irish connection with the 104-year-old Giro, which was first organised in 1909 to promote the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, is strong. In 1987 Dublin born Stephen Roche made history by being the first Irishman to win the famous ‘Maglia Rosa’, the winners’ Pink Jersey.
Roche spoke of his fond memories of the Giro 26 years on from his triumph.
“When you see all the people on the roadsides of Italy, the enthusiasm of poor and rich, they all come together for this event”, he said.
“It is an incredible spectacle for anybody who loves cycling and for those who are non-cyclists but curious.”
Belfast Lord Mayor Alderman Gavin Robinson spoke of his excitement at Northern Ireland hosting the race. He said, “I have no doubt the unforgettable excitement and unprecedented hype that surrounded the MTV awards will at least be matched when one of the world’s most iconic and famous sporting events begins in Belfast.”
He added, “The arrival of the world’s greatest cyclists will further enhance our burgeoning reputation as a happening city, but more importantly it will also provide us with significant economic returns.”
The threat of dissident republican terrorism is ever present in daily life in Northern Ireland. Minister Foster believes that although this threat exists, the security services are more than capable of handling the threat at the Giro d’Italia in 2014.
She said, “Northern Ireland organisations have significant experience in running large scale events, not least over the last year. We have widespread experience in helping to deliver safe and successful events.”
If the race is a success it will cement Northern Ireland’s status as a country capable of hosting world class sporting spectacles.