Over 200 of cycling’s leading competitors will travel around the roads of Richhill, Loughgall, Markethill and Hamiltonsbawn next May in pursuit of the famous Giro d’Italia maglia rosa (pink jersey).
The County Armagh points were confirmed as part of next year’s Grande Partenza (Big Start) during Monday’s high-profile launch event in Italy - with Richhill’s Stephen Gallagher enjoying a front-row seat for the Milan spectacle.
Gallagher, a former professional cyclist and now owner of Dig Deep Coaching, was hired in a consultancy role by the Giro d’Italia officials to map out the path from Belfast to Dublin for the three-day showpiece across May 10-12 in 2014.
His combination of professional and personal experience helped Gallagher submit suggestions ultimately signed off by RCS Sport. As a result of this role - described by Gallagher as a “very small cog in the Giro d’Italia machine” - he was invited to attend this week’s launch.
That small taste of what is to come only served to confirm Gallagher’s belief that the Giro d’Italia’s arrival will prove the biggest sporting event in Northern Ireland history.
“The Giro d’Italia is considered by many second only to the Tour de France in terms of prestige and really becomes a juggernaut when it arrives in a country,” he said. “The riders and guests got a look at a presentation video of the route and there was a real buzz about the challenges mapped out.
“Starting with a team time trial in Belfast is a wonderful way to kick everything off and there is no doubt that the time spent back home will go some way towards the final outcome.
“Make no mistake, next year’s visit to Ireland will showcase our landmark areas to a global audience and a major tourism boost is expected, however, the riders and teams will be taking things extremely seriously.
“Everyone I was talking to had a real sense of excitement at coming over and it was amazing sitting at the launch along with maybe 400 or 500 people looking at a presentation with names like Richhill and Markethill on screen.
“For the County Armagh stretch, it will start in Loughgall village, then Richhill’s main street out towards Hamiltonsbawn before a Markethill climb on the way to Keady.”
The Giro d’Italia dates back to 1909 and figures predict a global accumulated audience of 775 million, with footage broadcast to 165 countries and 10 previous starts outside the home nation.