There’s been much hype surrounding the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this July, yet this year also sees another major sporting event in action on UK and Irish soil – the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Perhaps an unusual location for this annual Italian cycling battle and precursor to the Tour de France, this year’s Grande Partenza takes in the capital cities of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Belfast and Dublin, in addition to some of the most famous sights of the cities and countryside of the Emerald Isle in what is sure to be an unforgettable sporting spectacle.
Kicking off on the evening of Thursday, 8th May is the opening ceremony (starting from 5.30pm), a live outdoor show set against the backdrop of Belfast City Hall where the riders and their teams (some 22 teams with nine riders apiece) will be unveiled. Things really get underway during the evening of Friday, 9th May when stage one of the Giro – the team time trial – sets off from Titanic Belfast. Following a 21.7km route around the city, the team time trial takes in some of Belfast’s most spectacular landmarks including Stormont, the Northern Irish parliament buildings; the River Lagan; Queen’s University where the poet laureate Seamus Heaney both studied and taught; with the final sprint to the finish along Great Victoria Street into Donegall Square North. The first team sets off at 5.45pm.
The first full day of riding is scheduled for Saturday, 10th May when stage two heads off just before 11am once again from Titanic Belfast and takes in some of the most stunning countryside of Northern Ireland. Leaving the city, the cyclists will loop west through County Antrim, then head for the picturesque coastal town of Portrush. From there, the peloton will follow the Causeway Coastal Route, heralded as one of the finest touring routes worldwide, before passing through the small town of Bushmills, site of the oldest whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland, and past Carrickfergus Castle along Belfast Lough. Returning to the city, the stage ends outside Belfast City Hall.
Stage three – Sunday, 11th May – sees the Giro shift to Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, with riders heading off from the Mall in the city centre out into the glorious landscapes to the south. Passing through the rugged Fews Forest, the riders will take in Castlebellingham, Drogheda, Balbriggan and coastal Clontarf before entering Dublin where they’ll pass the iconic landmarks of Trinity College, Custom House and Christ Church Cathedral before a sprint finish on Upper Merrion Street.
From here, the riders travel back to Italy where, after a rest/travel day, the tour kicks off again, heading north from Bari in Italy’s heel via Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and the Piemonte wine region before culminating in Trieste in the north east of the country.
So if you’re into your cycling or simply fancy a foray over to Northern Ireland’s buzzing capital, this is surely the perfect excuse for a Belfast city break if ever there was one!