Cycling's prestigious Giro d'Italia will begin in Northern Ireland next year, organisers confirmed.

The cross-border start to one of the sport's three Grand Tour races will be held over three stages from May 10-12 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 comes hot on the heels of last month's announcement that the first three stages of the 2014 Tour de France will be in England, with two in Yorkshire and the third finishing in The Mall 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. Bradley Wiggins has said he will focus on the Giro this year rather than defending his Tour de France title.

The Giro is expected to attract around £10 million worth of international media coverage.

Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster said the event was expected to attract 140,000 visitors. Millions more around the world are likely to watch on television. "This is the opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland as an exciting destination, as a cycling destination and a prime location for major international sports events," the DUP Stormont politician said.

The routes have not been determined, race organisers said at the launch event at the Titanic Belfast visitors' centre.

There is a strong Irish connection with the Giro, with Stephen Roche winning the race in 1987. 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). 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 said. He said he was quite confident that the spin-off from the tour being in Belfast would be incredible.