Tour De France could be held in Northern Ireland, says Team Sky ace Porte
Cycling superstar Richie Porte has backed Northern Ireland as the perfect destination to stage the Tour de France's Grand Depart, the country-hopping start to the world's most famous cycle race.
Team Sky ace Porte was the biggest name among thousands of cyclists who competed in the Giro d'Italia spin-off, the Gran Fondo, last weekend and was hugely impressed by what he saw.
And after the success of the Fondo, following on from last year's spectacular Giro Big Start here, Porte declared: "The Tour de France is the biggest one, obviously, but if you can get the Giro here then why not the Tour?"
The Australian added: "Northern Ireland has got everything you would want for the first week of a Grand Tour.
"The riding is hard which is what you need and the scenery you're riding through is unbelievable, even if the rain and wind wasn't great.
"I wasn't here for the Giro but, I think the weather was pretty decent, so weather-dependent I'd love to start a race here."
The earliest Northern Ireland could host a Tour start would be 2019 which could also see The Open golf championship return to Portrush, making for potentially the biggest summer of sport this country has ever seen.
And despite pressure on Stormont budgets, a concerted effort would be made by Ministers to land the Tour for the tourism bonanza it would help generate.
Porte is currently in training for the 2015 Tour, which will begin on July 4 in Utrecht, while the 2016 Grand Depart is already slated for the north of France.
Germany seems set to play host to the opening in 2017, while Belgium, Kazakhstan and Scotland are also all expected to launch bids to secure the iconic race before the turn of the decade, but with the infrastructure in place and a proven track record following last year’s Giro, 2019 could still be a realistic target for Northern Ireland.
Last year’s Grand Depart was held in Yorkshire and is thought to have provided a boost of £100million to the local economy.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last month, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin confidently stated: “Let’s go for it and see what happens.
“We should always aim high in trying to attract big sporting events here.
“Why not aim for the Tour de France? It’s been to Yorkshire, so why not here?
“When talks first came up about bringing the Giro d’Italia here there were people saying it could not be done.”
Meanwhile, Shadetree Sports, the company who alongside Giro owners RCS Sport brought the Grande Partenza here last year, are also targeting a return for cycling’s second biggest race.
The company’s co-founder Darach McQuaid said: “They’re announcing on Friday that the Giro will be starting in Holland this year. It started in Holland in 2010 as well.
“I’d like to repeat that or beat it by a year, so we’d be aiming for 2019 or 2020.
“We only scratched the surface with Northern Ireland last year and there’s so many other places we can go.
“Last year we had one of the best Grande Partenzas ever so I think there’d be an appetite from both sides for the Giro to come back.”
McQuaid was thrilled by the response to Sunday’s Gran Fondo after 3,200 cyclists took part and, with returns planned for 2016 and 2017, he believes the momentum garnered by the amateur event will aid the bid for a Grand Tour return.
“From our perspective, the Gran Fondo really keeps the Giro story going,” he said.
“When there are people lining the route and cheering the riders across the line, it just shows how the people here commit to an event.
“It’s not a difficult sell, Italian wine, Italian food, ‘La Dolce Vita’, but the way people have gotten into it has been magical.
“This is really going to play a big part in convincing the Giro to come back and start in Northern Ireland again.”