The Belfast rain tried its best to spoil the occasion but it could not deter the crowds from turning out in their numbers for the Giro d’Italia riders’ presentation.
Thousands packed in to the grounds of Belfast City Hall as the 198 riders set to tackle the 97th Corsa Rosa were introduced to the crowd, and the jerseys they will be competing for were showed off in style.
Pink Fever has gripped the Northern Irish capital, with the Giro the buzz word within the city, and the crowds were in good voice to welcome their heroes as they outlined their ambitions for the race.
It is quite a sight – faces you become accustomed to seeing on television or in race galleries, up close and in the flesh.
Former champions Michele Scarponi (Astana), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Ivan Basso (Cannondale) were given warm welcomes, as were new heroes like Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano).
Naturally the ovations reserved for three riders in particular was something special however – Irish riders Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Philip Deignan (Team Sky) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo).
The latter, whose famous father was proving to be a tourist attraction in his own right before the presentation as tourists thronged around him with cameras, was given the loudest roar of all.
Visibly overcome on the podium, Roche – who told RCUK he is targeting a top ten finish at the very least – admitted on stage he could never have imagined riding such a famous race in his home country.
“When you’re a kid growing up you think ‘wouldn’t it be great if a big event came to Ireland?’ but you are thinking more of the Tour of Ireland coming down,” he said.
“Eventually, when you realise it is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, it’s unreal.
“Obviously I tried to talk with the team as much as possible, and I’m so happy they have let me ride the Giro d’Italia. I am so happy and so proud to be here.”
Cousin Dan was also afforded a warm welcome, and praised the fans for ‘showing Europe how to put on a riders’ presentation’.
The Garmin-Sharp team leader added: “People are going to remember this weekend for a long time to come.”
Donegall rider Deignan meanwhile gave an insight into Team Sky’s ambitions for the race, revealing he will be targeting stage wins when the race heads to Italy.
After being roared on to the stage, he said: “That reception was incredible. It’s an amazing feeling. I’ve got to race all over the world, I have been very lucky to be a pro bike rider but I never thought I’d see the day where I got to start a Grand Tour in my own country.
“As a team we are going to be aggressive. We are going to go for stage wins. Personally, there are stages in the latter half of the race which suit me which I will be targeting.
“We will be aggressive over the three weeks.”
More immediately, attention will turn to the team time trial, which rolls out of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter on Friday evening before two stages where sprint finishes are expected.
And Kittel – who starts as favourite for those stages, as long as Giant-Shimano master the crosswinds expected on the Northern Irish coast – is relishing the challenge.
He said: “When I see and hear that welcome I am really looking forward to the first days here in Ireland.
“I’ve got a very strong team here next to me. They will support me in the next days and weeks and everyone is very excited and is ready to give their best. We are looking forward to the next days.”
And the German is not the only one – despite ominous weather predictions it appears as though the crowds will be out in full voice over the next three days.
Belfast is ready, and the Giro d’Italia is about to given one of its best ever send-offs.