Anyone heading to Northern Ireland for the start of the Giro d’Italia in May is in for a treat.
I recently spent three days across the Irish Sea to see how the province is preparing to host the 2014 Grande Partenza. Northern Ireland will host the first two stages of the race on May 9-10, before a third stage which crosses the border into the Republic of Ireland to finish in Dublin.
My visit coincided with the induction of Ireland’s most famous cycling son, Stephen Roche, into the Giro d’Italia’s hall of fame. Roche’s admission to an esteemed club which, founded in 2012, also counts Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi – who hold eight Giro titles between them – made back page news in the Belfast Daily Telegraph and Northern Ireland is set to be gripped by Giro fever in what will be the single biggest event it has ever hosted.
The trip also gave me the chance to sample a 60-mile section of stage two, which runs from Belfast to the Causeway Coast and back to the capital. The scenery is stunning – genuinely jaw-dropping, even through the torrential rain and gale-force winds which beset the ride. Visitors in May will be able to ride the same spectacular roads for themselves, before seeing how it’s done by the world’s best cyclists.
Rain or shine, there is no better sport than cycling to showcase Northern Ireland’s natural beauty. The open road is the sport’s amphitheatre and it will be transmitted to millions of screens across the world via stunning images beamed back from the television helicopter.
Anticipation is building. Taxis in Belfast have been given a makeover in the iconic pink of the year’s first Grand Tour, a chip shop in County Antrim has changed the colour of its fish to capture the spirit of the race, while the coastal town of Laarne, through which the race will pass on stage two, has launched a ’12 Days of Pink’ campaign to celebrate the arrival of one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
Northern Ireland has all the ingredients to host a spectacular Grande Partenza: stunning scenery, a stellar line-up set to include Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez Richie Porte, Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran, and – most importantly – a population ready to paint the town pink.
Watch out for an in-depth feature on Northern Ireland’s preparations for the 2014 Giro d’Italia as the race approaches.