Northern Ireland cycling fans will be in for a real treat when the prestigious Giro d’Italia arrives in the province for the very first time next year.
Details of the three special stages – which start in Belfast on May 9 – were leaked last week.
It will be the first time the Giro will begin outside of continental Europe, with the Northern Ireland Executive paying £3m from Tourist Board, EU and Department of Enterprise (Deti) funds to host the event.
There will be three stages held in Northern Ireland – a 22km time trial around Belfast followed by a loop around the north coast with a trip across the border to complete the section.
The stages are set to take place from Friday, May 9 to Sunday, May 11 next year.
The Belfast route on May 9 will begin at Titanic Belfast and proceed along the Newtownards Road, Stormont, Queen’s Bridge, the Ormeau Road, Stranmillis and Belfast city centre.
During Saturday’s 218 km leg competitors will set off from Belfast’s Antrim Road before travelling 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 – the final stage of the Ireland leg – 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.
All the routes are preliminary at this stage, but they are unlikely to change.
Maurice McAllister from Ballymoney Cycling Club says it is a huge boost that one of the sport’s greatest races will pass through north Antrim.
“With Giro coming to Northern Ireland and passing through Ballymoney, it is an opportunity for not only the adults but for young people to experience a spectacle the like they will have ever seen before,” Maurice told Times Sport.
“I would encourage everyone who has a chance to see upwards of 200 of the world’s best competition cyclists
to get to a point where they can enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity.
“For our Racing team riders, especially the youth section, it will motivate and catapult them further into what is not only a very healthy sport but now a very clean sport.
“We as a club have already submitted an application to Cycling Ireland to stage what we call reliability trials, This one will be for racing and leisure cyclists called the ‘Giro Reliability Trial’ with distances of 50
and 80 miles on roads that the Giro d’Italia will be on. This event in Ballymoney is an other opportunity for locals to see another event on their doorstep and I encourage them to take part.”
A 218km cycle leg of the race will go from Belfast to Antrim, then Ballymena and up to Ballymoney, to Bushmills and then on to the Giant’s Causeway taking in the coastline from Cushendall to Larne and back to Belfast.
Former champion cyclist Dave Kane also 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.”