Giro d'Italia Northern Ireland trip hailed as success
Northern Ireland has bid farewell to the Giro d'Italia with tens of thousands of people having turned out to welcome the prestigious cycle race.
Spectators lined the roads throughout Belfast, the Antrim coast and County Armagh over the course of three days.
The third stage began in Armagh on Sunday as the cyclists headed across the Irish border towards Dublin.
The race has been hailed a success by NI's ministers, while police praised people for their efforts.
The Giro d'Italia was the biggest sporting event ever staged in Northern Ireland, with competitors from more than 30 countries taking part.
Germany's Marcel Kittel of the Giant team won his second stage in two days in a sprint finish in Dublin. His winning time in the 187km (116 miles) route was four hours, 28 minutes and 43 seconds.
Australian Michael Matthews of the Orica team retained the pink jersey with an eight-second overall lead.
Hundreds of people turned out to wave goodbye to the Giro as it crossed the border into the Irish Republic.
At Forkhill in County Armagh, well-wishers lined the route and cheered as the lead group of five riders arrived in the border village.
Several minutes later the rest of the peloton swooped through the village as camera helicopters hovered overhead.'Global stage'
The response from the public over the three-day period was praised by police.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "Despite the inclement weather, thousands of you were lining the streets to support the cyclists.
"For those of you who had to alter plans or rethink your journey, thank you for your understanding and patience.
"This was a significant event that portrayed Northern Ireland on a global stage and yet again we have proved that we are more than capable of hosting international events and doing them well."
Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster was in Armagh to start the third stage of the race.
"Once again Northern Ireland has proved that, in rain or shine, we can host top-class major events," she said.Showcase
"Not only did the Giro d'Italia capture the imagination of people living here, as the pink theme was embraced and spectators turned out to cheer on the competitors, but Northern Ireland has impressed the many visitors who have travelled from far afield.
"Bringing the world's second biggest cycling race to Northern Ireland was about proving on the international stage that we can deliver when it comes to staging major events. It was, of course, also about showcasing our tourism product to the world. We have achieved both of those objectives and much more."
She said hosting the event had "lifted Northern Ireland to a new level".
"We have already announced that the Irish Open is returning in 2015 and 2017, and I have every confidence that more major events will follow in the years ahead," she added.
Culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín also praised the event, saying it had showcased Northern Ireland.
"We had this spectacle (shown) in 175 countries all over the world," she said.
"Our scenery, what we had to offer, the organisation, the infrastructure, will all be beamed round," she said.
"It has been proven on previous occasions that that, in terms of tourist potential, you can't buy that.
"Yes, you do need to spend money to make money.
"We saw this before during the torch relays for the Olympics and Paralympics. Certainly the tourist figures seemed to have bounced as a result of that."
Saturday's route took in some of Northern Ireland's most scenic parts, as the riders travelled through Antrim, Ballymena and Bushmills along the Causeway coast, before returning to Belfast via Larne and Carrickfergus.
German rider Marcel Kittel won the stage in a thrilling sprint finish with a time of 5:13:12, while Australian Michael Matthews took the pink jersey as overall race leader.
On Friday, the Giro d'Italia's opening stage was held in Belfast. Australia's Orica GreenEdge won the team time-trial, with Svein Tuft taking the first pink jersey.