Giro d'Italia 2014: The Irish stages
An in-depth look at the race's three days on the Emerald Isle
Last Updated: 17/06/14 11:48am
The first three stages of the race will visit Belfast, Stormont, Giant's Causeway, Armagh and Dublin, covering a total distance of more than 426km on the Emerald Isle.
The Tour de France visited Ireland in 1998, but this will be the first time the Giro has been held on Irish soil.
Here is an in-depth look at the Irish stages, including Sky Sports News reporter and Northern Ireland native Orla Chennaoui's tips on the best places to spectate...
Stage 1: Friday, May 9 - Belfast to Belfast - 21.7km team time trial
The race opens with a flat, mid-length team time trial in and around Belfast city centre. The stage starts beside the Titanic Belfast maritime museum, before heading east on the arrow-straight Newtownards Road to Stormont, where it takes in a lap of the grounds and tackles the only climb of note on the course.
The teams will travel back to the city centre along the same road and then swing south along the banks of the River Lagan, before taking a hairpin right-hand turn that will provide a stern test of the squads' bike-handling skills. A 90-degree right turn just before the finish in Donegall Square will also demand care before one last drive to the line.
Orla's best places to watch: The best spot to catch the action on stage one would have to be the Stormont Estate. The majestic lawns, the imposing Parliament Buildings sitting atop the huge sweeping driveway, and the fact that this provides the switchback point of the team time trial will make it a top spectator spot.
If you're keen to feel the breeze on your face from the passing teams, the Newtownards Road is where you want to be. The longest, straightest stretch of road on stage one means the riders will be going full gas and, if things go to plan, rotating in formation with exact precision, so you should get a sense of the speed and fluidity of a perfectly executed team time trial.
Given that the Giro curtain-raiser is a Friday evening affair, and that it's in Belfast, it would be remiss to not recommend a suitable pub from which to view the action. The Crown Liquor Saloon on Great Victoria Street is the city's most iconic bar, and just happens to be along the route, not far from the finish line.
Stage 2: Saturday, May 10 - Belfast to Belfast - 218km
The second day takes the riders on a long, flat and scenic journey from Belfast, up to Giant's Causeway, down the coast and back into the capital. There are only two climbs on the route, with neither significant enough to disrupt what is almost certain to be a sprint finish.
The route is not overly technical, although the teams will have to be wary of crosswinds given that more than half of the stage runs parallel to the coast.
Orla's best places to watch: Today's picture-postcard place to catch the Giro would have to be along the coast. Given the winding roads by the sea, it can be difficult to get either a good stretch of straight road, or somewhere to park. The Magheracross viewing point between Portrush and Bushmills, however, provides a bit of both, as long as you're there early enough. If you can get a bit of height, then the hairpin bend at Dunluce Road, near Portrush, will make for a stunning vantage point, as will anywhere along the coastal Tower Road from Cushendall to Glenarm.
If you'd rather be in the thick of the action, then please excuse what may seem like an obvious suggestion, and stay in Belfast. Whereas for the team time trial the previous evening the riders arrive at the start line at staggered times, on Saturday all will be mingling together before setting off. With each rider having to sign in before the race gets underway, it provides the race announcers with a chance to chat to the main stars in front of the crowd and get their view on the day ahead and how they've found the Grande Partenza so far. The atmosphere is always buzzing, you can check out the team buses and see behind the scenes, and if you're lucky, maybe get an autograph or two.
Positioning yourself here for the day means you also get two bites at the cycling cherry, and can make your way to the finish line for the business end of the day. Sprints are a personal favourite of mine with the adrenaline, mind-blowing speed and tumultuous tussle for the line.
Stage 3: Sunday, May 11 - Armagh to Dublin - 187km
The race leaves Belfast after day two, with stage three taking the riders from Armagh, over the border and down the coast to Dublin. Again, there are only two minor climbs on the route, meaning that another bunch sprint is a near certainty.
The wind could once again play a role in the latter half of the day, but of more concern to the sprint trains will be a twisting finale in Dublin. Sprinters with designs on victory will have to keep themselves to the front of the bunch in order to avoid potential crashes and position themselves well for the final 300m.
Orla's best places to watch: As with stage two, the atmosphere at both the start and finish lines will be electric, although for this stage you'll have to chose between the two because there'll be no time to make the dash from Armagh to Dublin.
It's a fairly flat stage, so there isn't much of an opportunity to see the riders slow on a long, steady climb, but the two King of the Mountain passes at Markethill and Fews Forest will give an ever-so-slightly prolonged glimpse of the peloton. Dundalk has been excited about the prospect of the intermediate sprint being contended in the town for months, so I would imagine this would be as good a spot as any to soak up the atmosphere for the day.
If it's a full-day experience you're after, then my tip would be to head to Malahide. The pretty coastal town has plenty of cafes and pubs to relax in before the riders arrive, and we'll be close enough to the business end of the day for racing to begin ramping up a gear before the serious action in Dublin.