Ireland gears up for Giro d'Italia

Thor Hushovd in front of Team BMC trying out the route of Giro d?Italia in Herning, Denmark last year.  The race will begin in Ireland next year, organisers confirmed today. Photograph: AFP Photo/Getty Images

Thor Hushovd in front of Team BMC trying out the route of Giro d?Italia in Herning, Denmark last year. The race will begin in Ireland next year, organisers confirmed today. Photograph: AFP Photo/Getty Images

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

Ireland is to host the opening three stages of the prestigious Giro d'Italia cycle race next year. The Grand Partenza or Big Start will take place in Belfast with further stages in Armagh city and Dublin before the expected 200 cyclists and support teams fly back to Italy for the rest of the three-week event.

Modest estimates put the value to both parts of Ireland at between €45 million and €50 million. This is based on projected visitor expenditure and longer-term benefits arising from global TV exposure.

Described. by former winner Stephen Roche as the second of the sport’s Grand Tour events, the Giro has been lured to Ireland by a range of incentives from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council, the Stormont Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and Mediolanum International Funds/Life.

Northern authorities are investing some £4.2 million (€4.85 million) which is expected to generate some £10 million (€11.55 million) for the local economy. It is hoped further long term benefits will follow from the exposure of the event in Ireland to the anticipated global audience of 800 million across 165 countries.

The event begins on May 10th next year in Belfast with the first two stages being held in and around the city. The riders then move to Armagh on May 12th for the start of the third stage which finishes in Dublin that evening.

Dublin hosted the opening stages of the Tour de France in 1998 and the tour returns to England in July 2014 with two stages in Yorkshire and central London.

The precise details of next year's Giro stage routes in Ireland have yet to be announced and will be concluded at a later stage. Giro officials and logistics experts return to Ireland next month to finalise the stage routes and with a formal announcement expected in late spring.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said staging the Giro was a coup for Ireland, North and South.

"This prestigious event will be seen by millions of sports and cycling fans everywhere, presenting us with a fantastic opportunity to highlight the island of Ireland around the world as a top location for sporting events, as well as a wonderful holiday destination," he said.

His comments have been echoed by tourism and sport minister Michael Ring and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muiri.

Stephen Roche attended the Belfast announcement yesterday, accompanied by Stormont tourism minister Arlene Foster and Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro and managing director of Itialian race organiser RCS Sport. He was joined at the Dublin launch by Sean Kelly.

Roche's Giro victory helped propel him towards further victories in the Tour de France and the World Championships in 1987.

He said that while the economy and Irish tourism would benefit, his wish was that Irish cycling would capitalise on the event in ways that did not happen following the visit of the Tour de France 15 years ago.

"I hope cycling can get its act together and develop the kids in cycling. The Tour de France came here and went and have you seen any difference? I hope some ways of developing cycling can come on the back of it and maybe sponsors may come on board for a new tour of Ireland."

"It is a great, huge dream that we had some years ago and today it has become a reality," Mr Acquarone said.

"Italy has a very long history but we are a nation of not so many years and the Giro d'Italia was one of those events that kept people of our nation together. Everybody is together and waiting for this huge event."

Mrs Foster said she anticipated some 140,000 visitors would be attracted North to the race: "This is the opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland as an exciting destination, as a cycling destination and a prime location for major international sports events."

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