Cycling's prestigious Giro d'Italia will begin in Ireland next year, organisers confirmed today.
The cross-border start to one of the sport's three Grand Tour races will be held over three stages from 10-12 May and will involve routes taking in Belfast, Armagh and Dublin.
Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro and managing director of Italian race organiser RCS Sport, said: "Belfast will provide spectacular backdrops for the 2014 Grand Partenza (Big Start) and will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event."
The news follows the announcement in December that the first three stages of the 2014 Tour de France will be in England, with two in Yorkshire and the third finishing in London.
The start of the 104-year-old Giro is normally hosted in Italy but in recent times has been awarded to an outside country every two years, most recently in Denmark last year.
More than 200 of the top professional cyclists from across the globe will be in Northern Ireland to take part and there will be a supporting programme of events and activities.
Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster said: "Plans are already in motion to make the occasion a fabulous celebration worthy of Italian cycling traditions and the maglia rosa (pink jersey) itself."
Bradley Wiggins has said he will focus on the Giro this year rather than defending his Tour de France title.
There is a strong Irish connection with the Giro, with Stephen Roche winning the race in 1987.
First organised in 1909 to promote the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, the Giro is now one of the world's largest sporting events, watched at roadside by 12.5 million spectators over the three weeks of the event.
Roche attended the launch and paid tribute to the charisma of the Italians.
"The Giro is maybe distinctive in that it is probably the second biggest event for me, in my opinion (after the Tour de France)," Roche said.
"When you consider the passion these people have, the passion these people have shown to us this morning, it is duplicated throughout the whole Italian nation."
He recalled that in 1987 the crowds were warm and enthusiastic.
"When you see all the people on the roadsides of Italy, the enthusiasm of poor and rich, they all come together for this event," Roche said.
He added that the people of Belfast and Italy had gelled and recalled the huge boost of his victory in the Giro as he went on to win the Tour de France.
"It gave me a lot of extra confidence for the Tour," he said. "Then you are surfing the wave and you become, I would not say unbeatable, but the fact that you have one big win under your belt, it makes the rest much more possible."
He said he was quite confident that the spin-off from the tour being in Belfast would be incredible.