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Giro d'Italia 2014 NI route unveiled

By Kevin Magee

image captionDay one will see cyclists start at Titanic Belfast before passing Stormont and finishing at Belfast City Hall
image captionDay two will see cyclists on a tour of the north Antrim coast before returning to Belfast after cycling 218 km
image captionThe third day will see the cyclists make their way to Dublin after starting in Armagh

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

There will be three stages to the race - a 22 km time trial around Belfast, a loop around the north coast and a cross border final stage.

The Giro d'Italia is one of cycling's three prestigious grand tours.

It is understood Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is travelling to Milan next week for the official launch.

However, although cycle fans will be keen to try out the route, not everyone is happy.

Sinn Féin has said it is disappointed that the race circuit ignores west Belfast.

The stages will take place in Northern Ireland from Friday 9 May to Sunday 11 May, 2014.

The Belfast route on Friday 9 May starts at Titanic Belfast and takes in the Newtownards Road, Stormont, Queen's Bridge, the Ormeau Road, Stranmillis and Belfast city centre.

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

On day three, Sunday, the final stage of the Ireland leg, the riders will embark on a 187km cross border section.

They will leave Armagh and travel to Richhill and Newtownhamilton before heading south, crossing the border at Forkhill en route to Dublin via Dundalk, Castlebellingham and Drogheda.

It is the first time the international event is beginning outside continental Europe. The Northern Ireland Executive is paying £3m from Tourist Board, EU and Department of Enterprise (Deti) funds to host the event.

media captionOne local cycling shop owner is delighted the race will pass his business.

All the routes are preliminary at this stage, but they are unlikely to change.

Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said he was disappointed that the circuit did not include west Belfast.

"The image of cyclists going up and down the Falls Road would send out a massive positive signal right across the world," he said.

"This is about advertising the city. This is about promoting the city, and nowhere else can do it better than the Falls Road, and I think it's a shame that Deti have excluded west Belfast from this competition.

"What we will see is all other parts of the city being touched and being seen world-wide, except west Belfast, and it is just not good enough. We will campaign to meet whoever we have to meet, to ensure this race comes to this part of the city."

Others are happier. Former champion cyclist Dave Kane cannot believe his luck. The time trial route will pass the front door of his bike shop on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast.

Mr Kane said: "I've been in Italy and I've seen the Giro and to get the Grand Depart here, it's unbelievable. The people here just don't know what this is going to be like. It's not to say you have a bunch of cyclists going through.

"These are the top pros in the world and they'll be here for roughly a week.

"They'll be out routing the stages and then you'll have the prologue which is the team time trial which goes past the door here and round Stormont and it's unbelievable for the people of Northern Ireland, for the tourism, for the economy to be able to support something like the Giro."

The Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana are the most well known and prestigious Grand Tours for top cyclists.

The start of the 104-year-old Giro has traditionally taken place in Italy, but in recent times has been awarded to an outside country every two years.

Two of cycling's Grand Tours will make visits to Britain and Ireland next year, with the 2014 Tour de France starting in Yorkshire.

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

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