Sports consultant defends Giro d'Italia NI route

There will be three stages to the race in Northern Ireland - a 22 km time trial around Belfast, a loop around the north coast and a cross border final stage.

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A sports consultant who helped bring the Giro d'Italia cycling race to Northern Ireland has defended the route chosen by the organisers.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have said they are disappointed that the circuit excludes west Belfast and the Mourne Mountains.

But Darach McQuaid said it was impossible to please everyone.

The Giro d'Italia is one of cycling's three prestigious grand tours.

"We can't bring the race past every front door in every household in Belfast," Mr McQuaid said.

"Or for that matter through Northern Ireland as a whole. There is always going to be somebody who'll say: 'Why is the race not coming past our front door, or through our area'."

Mr McQuaid, from Shadetree Sports, said that when he went to Milan, he was selling all of Northern Ireland to the Giro organisers.

"One of the big sells was how compact Belfast is," he said.

"You could have a stage start at the Titanic building and a finish at city hall and in real terms, people could walk from one to the other. So we did not feel anyone would feel excluded from being able to enjoy the Giro d'Italia from the roadside."

Mr McQuaid said the choice of course was down to the organisers who have been running this race for more than 100 years.

"They know what they are doing: they know how to find the best race courses. They listen to local opinions, but ultimately it is their say," he said.

Belfast first

He added that this was a huge event which would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.

It is understood Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is travelling to Milan next week for the official launch.

The race routes have not been officially announced, but it is understood there will be three stages - a 22 km time trial around Belfast, a loop around the north coast and a cross-border final stage.

The three most prestigious events in the sport of road cycling are the Le Tour de France (France), Vuelta a Espana (Spain) and the Giro d'Italia (Italy).

They are known collectively as the Grand Tours. Next year, the UK will host the opening stages of both the Tour de France that begins in Yorkshire as well as the Giro d'Italia in Belfast.

It is the first time the international event is beginning outside continental Europe since the race began in 1909.

The Northern Ireland Executive is paying £3m from Tourist Board, EU and Department of Enterprise (Deti) funds to host the event.

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