Posted on Wednesday 13 November 2013 by Ulster Business

Giro D Italia

By Amanda Ferguson

One of the greatest cycling spectacles on earth – the Giro d'Italia – will get its Big Start in Belfast next May.

The world's second-biggest cycling race, first started in 1909, is expected to generate millions of pounds for both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland economies and encourage further and new participation in the sport.

More than 200 of the world's best cyclists, from over 30 countries, will arrive in Northern Ireland for the Grande Partenza (Big Start) on Friday May 9.

On Saturday, May 10 the Giro travels up to the North Antrim Coast and races along the stunning Causeway Coastal Route. Then it's back to Belfast before concluding on Sunday, May 11 with a road stage from Armagh to Dublin.

In Italy, and among the global cycling community, the countdown to the event is already on.

The official Giro d'Italia Twitter account went into overdrive when the route was announced earlier this month.

"21 stages, 3.449,9 km, a pure show from Belfast to Trieste... this is the Giro d'Italia 2014 route!" the enthused social media team wrote about the event, which is expected to end in Trieste in Italy on June 1.

In 2010 when the Big Start was hosted in Amsterdam it generated an economic return of €7.4m and attracted around 200,000 spectators. Last year the Big Start was held in Denmark and represented a bit step up, drawing an estimated 500,000 spectators.

In 2014, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) is expecting in excess of 140,000 overnight visitors for the start of the cycle race and local cycle businesses are also expecting to get a boost.

Sports Minister, Caral Ni Chuilin told Ulster Business the success of the World Police and Fire Games held over the summer demonstrated the region's capacity to host and deliver large events.

"The local spectators who came out in their thousands helped to create the buzz and atmosphere which was evident at all the venues," she said.

"Sport is an important component of many people's lives here and I am sure this enthusiasm will be evident when the competitors from the Giro d'Italia arrive.

"Cycling for many of us is an excellent way of staying healthy, getting out and about and enjoying our magnificent scenery.

"This event however will offer a unique opportunity to witness the high speed, adrenaline fuelled sport of competitive cycle racing," the Minister added.

"DCAL will be working closely with DETI, Sport NI and Cycling Ulster, to maximise the outcomes here of the Giro legacy, particularly in those areas of greatest need."

Indeed, cycling enthusiast and WPFG chief executive John Tully says the Giro will be a huge logistical project for organisers to ensure athletes from all over the world and spectators are at the centre of everything.

"Giro is a very special event," he said.

"It's very different from WPFG but also absolutely fantastic for Northern Ireland. The level of television coverage is huge. Eurosport will run live pieces every day and wrap up programming too. This is great for our profile."

Mr Tully said hosting the Big Start is "another feather in our cap" when it comes to staging major international sporting events.

"It's a hugely exciting event for Northern Ireland, which will see world class athletes compete in Belfast," he said.

"NI PLC has a track record and the capability to deliver on major events.

"It is a phenomenal success story for Northern Ireland to get this event and fitting that it goes right up to Stormont on the first day.

"I am a cycling enthusiast, it's my sport, so to see top notch cyclists cycle the roads of Belfast is hugely exciting. Cycling businesses will get a boost and its another opportunity to attract young people into sport. Seeing the exciting buzz that goes around will be good for everyone."

Among those hoping to cash in on the Giro buzz is Derek Armstrong, owner of Bike Dock on the Ravenhill Road in south Belfast.

He says there are still many people who do not fully appreciate the magnitude of the event.

"A lot of people don't understand how important this is for Northern Ireland," he said.

"It really is phenomenal. The following for this event is up there with the Tour de France.

"Seeing this spectacle will engender a fair amount of enthusiasm. Hotels in some areas are already fully booked and it will be enormous in terms of tourism and a buzz in the city.

"A lot of the brands we sell will be represented at the event and we will hang on the back of that to push publicity further.

"Our promotional vehicles will display information about the event as will the shop and the website."

Mr Armstrong said this "pure cycle event" is growing in popularity as each year passes and the cycle industry in Northern Ireland see staging the Giro's Big Start as a very big deal.

"We are looking forward to capitalising on it as much as possible," he added.

Meanwhile, Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons described it as "a wonderful coup" for Northern Ireland that the first stages of the Giro d'Italia will take place here in 2014.

"There is huge interest in this prestigious event, which will be seen by an estimated 775 million sports and cycling fans everywhere, presenting us with a fantastic opportunity to highlight Northern Ireland around the world, as a top location for sporting events, as well as a wonderful holiday destination," he said.

"Tourism Ireland is working hard to capitalise on the tourism potential of the famous Giro d'Italia and the Giro promotions will be a major focus for Tourism Ireland in Italy, the home of the Giro; in Great Britain, the largest market for tourism to Northern Ireland; and in other key markets like Spain and Germany, where there is strong interest in cycling."

Meanwhile, NITB's Director of Marketing Naomi Waite said clinching the event once again highlighted our growing reputation as a world class destination.

"The benefits of an event like this for Northern Ireland are huge," she said.

"We're expecting more than 140,000 overnight visitors for the event, as well as countless more spectators on each day, which will generate millions for the local economy.

"On top of this, we expect the event to generate around £10m worth of international media coverage which will really showcase Northern Ireland as a top quality destination and host for world class events.

"Last year's event attracted massive international media coverage when it was broadcast in 165 countries with a global audience of 775 million people."

Giovanni Nipoti, Sport Manager for the event organisers RCS Sport, said it was delighted that the Big Start of the Giro d'Italia 2014 is in Northern Ireland, as it is a place known around the world for its rich sporting heritage.

"I am confident the cyclists will enjoy the route which I believe they will find very challenging," he said.

"Northern Ireland is a beautiful part of the world and will make for a very scenic race."

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