Heartbreak and joy as Giro d'Italia shines
What a start to the 2014 Giro d'Italia. On opening night on the packed streets of Belfast this was the first stage that had everything... joy and pain, celebration and despair, excitement and emotion.
Even in their wildest dreams everyone involved with bringing this wonderful sporting event to Northern Ireland could not have imagined it beginning in such dramatic fashion.
This was a tale of two riders... one enjoying his best birthday ever and the other enduring the woe of crashing out on his home turf.
For Canadian Svein Tuft yesterday was the stuff of dreams, being gifted the pink jersey by his Australian team Orica GreenEdge who were quickest in the Team Time Trial, but what a nightmare for Irishman Daniel Martin who suffered a horrible fall in the wet conditions, fracturing his right shoulder.
Martin entered the Giro with high hopes of winning.
Around 15 minutes into his race, that ambition had ended when he came a cropper, appearing to slip on a drain on the Newtownards Road, taking down three of his Garmin Sharp team-mates.
Martin sat on the ground for several minutes, coming to terms with what had happened and waiting for medical assistance.
A few days earlier he talked about the amazing buzz surrounding the event and here he was feeling shattered by an unexpected fall.
This was his big race of the season and for it to finish like this was soul destroying.
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Crowds watching the fall on big screens around the course gasped when they saw the Irishman's dream fade away.
While there was sympathy for Martin, there was a sense of delight among the riders for Tuft – a likeable Canadian competing for an Aussie outfit who fancied their chances in last night's Team Time Trial.
They were right to do so. They were the second team out of 22 to start the race at Titanic Quarter and while the conditions favoured them more than most, they still put in an impressive shift, finishing the 21.7km course in a time of 24 minutes and 42 seconds – five seconds quicker than the Omega Pharma Quick Step team, who were one of the later starters.
The Team Time Trial is when all nine team members set off together trying to finish the course as quickly as possible. When the fifth member of the team crosses the line, a time is posted.
The decision had been made by Orica that Tuft would cross the line first so that if they won the race he would claim the pink jersey.
Many happy returns mate...
"It was a special day – a dream come true for a guy like me, a once in a lifetime experience, and I am really thankful to my team for the gift," said Tuft, who added that the huge turn-out inspired him.
"When you have crowds on a climb and you feel that energy it's a special thing. It was truly impressive. I never expected to see that kind of a crowd, they were three, four, five people deep right the whole way through, screaming, and wearing pink... I never knew people were that interested!"
Ulsterman Philip Deignan, from Donegal, riding for Team Sky, concurred with Tuft about the incredible atmosphere.
He said: "It was amazing out there. It is fantastic how the people of Northern Ireland have embraced the Giro.
"As we were riding, there was a wall of noise. It was brilliant to hear everyone cheering us on."
The 21.7km race around the city streets was a blast for the teams, bar Garmin Sharp. The thousands of people lining the streets loved it too.
The route, beginning at Titanic Quarter, took in Stormont, Newtownards Road, Queen's Bridge, Oxford Street, Ormeau Road, Stranmillis and other areas of Belfast, ending at the City Hall where all riders were roared over the line.
The wet conditions obviously made it slippery so for the men who will contest overall victory it was all about staying out of trouble.
There will be more to come from Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) too, content with their team's efforts last night finishing second and third just a few seconds behind Orica. Tinkoff-Saxo, Nicolas Roche's team, finished fourth.
Roche remains in the race. Unfortunately his cousin Dan Martin does not.
Up to date information on public road closures can be found at trafficwatchni.com/giro.
RESULTS AFTER DAY ONE
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97th staging of the event
During its three days in Ireland, cyclists will travel 426.7km.
Over the three weeks, they will cycle almost 3,450km.
A potential audience of 775 million people is expected across 174 countries.
Expected to generate £2.5m for the economy, with some £10m-worth of international media coverage.