Giro d'Italia 2014 to start earlier and in Northern Ireland

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BBC News NI can reveal the route of next May's prestigious Girl d'Italia cycle race - ahead of the official launch next week.

The 2014 Giro d'Italia, which will start in Northern Ireland, will begin a day earlier than normal to include three rest days.

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

It is the 11th time the race has started outside Italy.

The race, which will also have two individual time trials and some tough mountain stages in the final week, will finish on 1 June in Trieste.

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 will 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.

Stage eight from Foligno to Montecopiolo will include the Carpegna climb where Pantani used to train, and uphill finishes in Oropa (Stage 14) and Montecampione (Stage 15) will recall two of his well-known victories in the race.

The gruelling Gavia and Stelvio climbs on the way to the finish in Val Martello are also back on the schedule after bad weather meant they could not be tackled this year.

The penultimate stage on 31 May from Maniago to Monte Zoncolan has a mountain-top finish that should decide the race before the final stage's circuit finish in Trieste.

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