Veteran Tuft claims Giro opener
Published 09/05/2014 | 16:37
The birthday boy winner of the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland has said it was a dream come true.
Svein Tuft hailed his Orica-GreenEdge team's "perfect" ride and adde d the crowds along the 21.7 kilometre time trial course around Belfast were unbelievable.
He proudly wore the pink jersey - the maglia rosa - of the victor on a night when the only sour note was the crash which injured Dan Martin and ruined the Irishman's chances of success on the night.
Tuft said: "It is a dream come true."
The Canadian said he was impressed by the crowds who lined the route and cheered him on during his 37th birthday.
"The entire course was lined four or five deep with people screaming and wearing pink, it was fantastic."
Belfast's traditional shades of orange and green have given way to a generous coating of pink to celebrate hosting one of the world's greatest cycle races.
The emblematic colour of the Giro has swept across the city and beyond to mark the race's Big Start in Northern Ireland.
From sheep in the fields, to the hair of Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir, everything in the region seems to have turned pink.
Mr O Muilleoir said: "Belfast has embraced Giro, I think, like no other city.
"And it's wonderful to see the entire city turn pink.
"We've lots of colours in this city and sometimes they divide us, but the colour pink and the Giro has united us."
The first three stages of the Giro are taking place in Northern Ireland, starting with the time trial through Belfast.
Fans gathered at various points along the route throughout the day.
From Parliament Buildings at Stormont to the landmark City Hall, pink clad ranks of spectators gathered to get the best vantage point for the cycling extravaganza.
Steven Limmer and magenta-wigged team mates from Newtownards Cycling Club were among many who biked along the course to take in as much of the show piece event as they could.
"We are doing a bus trip tomorrow as well, we are heading round the coast to follow the riders," he said.
Stage two of the Giro will see the race head up along Northern Ireland's scenic Causeway Coast. Stage three on Sunday will depart from the ecclesiastical city of Armagh before crossing the border for a finish in Dublin.
Mr Limmer said the event coming to the island was further proof of the cycling renaissance going on in Britain and Ireland.
"It seems to have grown," he said.
"To coin a phrase, it's becoming the new golf, it's definitely grown in the last few years, with the likes of Team Sky - who have won - they have highlighted it through the British Isles and definitely over here."
Team Sky is one of 22 taking part in this year's Giro.
Performance manager of the UK-based team Rod Ellingworth said it was great to have an event start on home soil.
"We have had such a warm welcome it's been fantastic," he said.
"Most of the public here I would say never see this level of racing, perhaps they only see it on TV or in the magazines, so I think seeing it live here and getting an opportunity to be near these guys and see the set up and everything, I think it's quite a good opportunity."
It is an opportunity thousands, most dressed in pink, are set to take advantage of over the next few days.