Giro d'Italia will be NI's 'biggest ever event', says minister

Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster has said that the three days of Giro d'Italia action in the province will make for the "biggest event" ever staged in Northern Ireland.

The 2014 race will start in Belfast on 9 May and the Minister said the Giro will give Northern Ireland "a global outreach we have never had before".

"This is going to be even bigger than this year's G8," insisted the Minister.

"We expect around 150,000 people to come to Northern Ireland for the race."

The Northern Ireland Minister attended Monday's launch of the Giro in Milan.

Last week, the event appeared to be plunged into crisis when news emerged that Giro race director Michele Acquarone had been suspended from his role as chief operating officer at the company that organises the Giro, RCS Sport.

This followed a revelation earlier last week that up to £11m was missing from the firm's books.

The Northern Ireland Executive is understood to be spending over £3m to bring the race to the province.

Giro d'Italia Northern Ireland route unveiled

Following last week's disclosure, RCS Sport appointed a new chief executive Riccardo Taranto and he insisted on Monday that next year's event is totally secure.

"We have never put in any jeopardy the RCS Sport's abilities," said Taranto, who is leading the internal investigation into the apparent missing money.

"We are not concerned. We are working to fix these issues and of course there is an investigation."

Irish cyclist Nicolas Roche, whose father Stephen won the Giro in 1987, insisted that next year's event would be "something great".

"There are about 7,500 people working every day on the event and it's like a little village moving about. There will be loads of things going on. It's a lot more than a cycling race," added Roche.

The race begins on Friday 9 May with three stages in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

As revealed by BBC Northern Ireland last week, the opening 21.7km team time trial will begin at Titanic Belfast - the visitor centre at the site of the famous ship's construction.

The 218km Saturday leg starts in Belfast and goes to Antrim, Ballymena, Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway, taking in the coastline from Cushendall to Larne on to Whitehead and Carrickfergus before returning to Belfast.

The final stage of the Ireland leg, on Sunday 11 May, will see the riders embark on a 187km cross-border section from Armagh to Dublin.

The riders will then have a rest day before the Italian section of the race begins in Giovinazzo on the Adriatic coast on 13 May.

The race, won this year by Italian Vincenzo Nibali, will also mark the 10th anniversary of Italian rider Marco Pantani's death, with several stages dedicated to the climber who won both the Giro and the Tour de France in 1998 but died from cocaine poisoning in 2004.