Published Thursday, 08 May 2014
The 2014 Giro d'Italia Opening Event at The Belfast City Hall (© Presseye)
The Grande Partenza, or 'Big Start' of the prestigious race is being held in Northern Ireland, before the action moves into the Republic and then on to its home country of Italy.
Thousands descended on Belfast City Hall on Thursday evening to get their first glimpse of the 200 elite competitors ahead of their gruelling 21-stage, 3,000km race.
Sinn Féin Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir joined with Italian delegates on the specially erected stage at city hall to officially open the first Grand Tour of the year.
Councillor Ó Muilleoir called on spectators to put the country on the map with more than 800m people in 174 countries expected to tune in during the three day extravaganza.
Welcoming "the greatest athletes in the world", he said: "The Giro is a first class, world class, sporting event, coming to the city of Belfast."
On Friday, stage one will see the 22 teams compete in the team time trial over 21.7km, from the Titanic Quarter past Stormont and back to city hall.
Where do you put the greatest cycling race in the world? You put it in the greatest city in the world, in the city of Belfast. Welcome Giro.
Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
On Saturday the peleton - the main group of riders - will head out of the city for Ballymena to the Causeway Coast, making its way past the two 'King of the Mountain' points - at Cushendall Road and in Carrickfergus - before returning to Belfast for the staggering 219km stage.
The event is expected to provide a boost to tourism and local business.
DUP Tourism Minister Arlene Foster added: "These events are so important to us in Northern Ireland.
"They help raise the civic pride among our own people and help us to sell a global message.
"It's important we change the story of Northern Ireland and the Giro goes a long way to helping us do that that."
The Giro will leave Belfast for Armagh on Sunday, where the 187km stage departs Northern Ireland for Dublin.
With much of Belfast - including City Hall - turning pink for the occasion, Armagh is not to be outdone.
The Orchard County will be turning sites like the historic gaol pink and hosting a variety of events, from a speciality market to an evening of live music and a huge pink-themed fireworks display.
The famous local Bramley apple will also be pitted against Italy's pizza in a 'Big Bake Off' event.
"I'm delighted to welcome everyone to Armagh to join us in celebrating the arrival of the Giro d'Italia," Lord Mayor Robert Turner said.
"Our local traders and volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure that this will be the biggest and pinkest party to ever happen in Armagh."
The Giro d'Italia is expected to attract thousands of spectators and people are being urged to plan for their journeys to watch the race or to get to work or school.
Full traffic and travel details, including road closures and public transport arrangements, are available here.
© UTV News