Cycle mania will sweep Northern Ireland next month, as the Giro d’Italia hits our streets. The people of Templepatrick were certainly excited last week, deluging the NI
Conservatives’ office with calls after a stray European election poster mistakenly appeared on the route. Sorry about that folks! We took it down soon afterwards.
Understandably, everyone wants Northern Ireland to look its best, as cycling fans across the world tune in to watch the action. The Giro is a fantastic shop window for our tourist industry, as well as another opportunity to demonstrate that we can put on a world class event, just like the G8 and the World Police and Fire Games, last year.
Hopefully the sun shines and we see a great race. However the really hard work of capitalising on the Giro’s international exposure will come after the wheels have stopped turning and the riders and their support teams have gone home.
The race will pass through some of our most beautiful countryside and it will be a hugely effective advert for cycling holidays in Northern Ireland. The challenge is to make sure that we’re ready to put the infrastructure in place for visitors and their bikes, as well as local cyclists too.
It will be a long-term project, but councils and the executive ought to start thinking now about how they can improve facilities and make cycling safer in their areas. There are some great examples already, like the Comber Greenway and the Lagan Towpath, from Belfast to Lisburn, but we need many more.
As the venue for the ‘Big Start’ of the Giro, Belfast could market itself as a ‘cycle friendly city’, with the right investment. The north coast will make a stunning backdrop for the race and there is no reason why it can’t become a world famous route for cycling holidays, if the will and the foresight is there.
‘Joined up thinking’ is a horrible cliché, but it sums up how different levels of government and public bodies need to work together to get the best out of an opportunity like this. Let’s see a ‘can do attitude’ to make the most of the Giro d’Italia.