Belfast Telegraph

Farewell, Giro! it's been a ride we'll look back on with relish

Famous event has showcased Northern Ireland's finest... now let's target something bigger

By Steven Beacom

The Giro d'Italia has come and gone. We may have enjoyed its company for only a short time but it was a holiday romance that will live long in the memory... for everyone.

The riders from all over the globe savoured the welcome, the atmosphere, the huge crowds, the organisers were relieved and delighted at how successful everything proved to be, our politicians smiled and came together as one and the spectators relished seeing one of the biggest sporting events on the planet on their own doorstep. The Ulster weather may have been grey, but it didn't seem to matter... we were all in the pink feeling bright, bubbly and good about ourselves. That's what sport can do.

And nobody embraces big time sport quite like the Northern Ireland public, starved of it for decades.

For three days of competition, and the opening ceremony before that, thousands upon thousands of people turned out to roar their support and appreciation for almost 200 of the world's finest riders.

This country is renowned for having a fascination and obsession with motorcycling and in the coming week that will be evident at the North West 200.

Turns out we don't need engines to get excited about bikes!

The crowds along the routes from Friday night when the Team Time Trial stage whizzed around Belfast to yesterday in the cathedral city of Armagh were a sight to behold.

In between on Saturday there was the spectacular scenery of the Causeway Coastal stage taking in towns such as Antrim, Ballymena, Bushmills, Glenarm and Ballygally before returning to Belfast via Larne and Carrickfergus.

It's almost impossible to pick a favourite location but to witness the vast numbers on the mile-long Prince of Wales Avenue on the way up to Stormont Castle on opening night probably tops a lengthy list.

The riders were overwhelmed by the support.

The stage winners here, Canadian Svein Tuft on day one and German Marcel Kittel on days two and three, both spoke of their shock and awe at the 'wall of noise' surrounding them en route to their thrilling victories.

Tuft told me the crowds on Friday inspired him to pedal faster and pedal harder, adding that stage wins in a grand tour event like the Giro didn't happen to him.

They do in our wee country mate, where we have proved down the years that just about anything is possible.

What made Svein's victory even sweeter was that it came on his 37th birthday. Kittel was 26 yesterday. Fitting really, celebrations all round.

Apart from for the unfortunate Daniel Martin that is.

The Irishman was a contender for overall victory in this year's Giro but his race was over before 15 minutes of riding when he slipped on a manhole cover on the Newtownards Road, bringing down three of his Garmin Sharp team-mates with him.

Martin suffered a broken collarbone, ruling him out of the rest of the race.

Amid all the joy, here was one man's pain... desperate for Dan, who had based his whole season on this race. The drama of sport.

Today is a rest day for the riders as the Giro roadshow makes its way back to Italy for three more weeks of action, endeavour, stunning mountain stages and a climax on June 1 in the town of Trieste in the extreme north-east of the country.

That will be the big finish.

It will take something to beat the Big Start in Northern Ireland.

Big Start? Too right. Many involved in the Giro for years said they had never experienced anything like it.

The 2014 Giro d'Italia has once again proved what can be achieved in Northern Ireland when we put our minds to it.

It should give us the confidence to think even bigger.

Last week in this newspaper I stated the powers that be should do what they can to bring the Tour de France here. The Giro bigwigs think it can be done so, let's go for it.

The Irish Open at Royal Portrush a couple of years ago drew record crowds for a European Tour event. On the back of that there will be more Irish Opens in Northern Ireland at Royal County Down in Newcastle (2015) and at the Lough Erne resort in Enniskillen (2017). The Open itself should be next.

And in a few years we will have outstanding stadium facilities at Windsor Park and Casement Park to complement those already completed at Ravenhill.

Think of the glamour sporting events that can continue to come to Northern Ireland... the European Super Cup, bringing the best football teams on the planet here, is surely a must.

We are the hosts with the most.

With the Giro success fresh, now is the time to strike, make calls, make deals, make things happen.

The message to Stormont is: If you bring it, we will come.

Belfast Telegraph