Giro d'Italia: Belfast a-buzz as world's top cyclists go whizzing by
There was a buzz in Belfast city centre at around 6.30 last night when the first of the Giro d'Italia teams crossed the finishing line.
Last weekend City Hall saw some of the top runners in the world at the Belfast Marathon, but last night it was the turn of the globe's greatest cyclists.
Thousands looked on in awe and cheered as the Lycra-clad athletes whizzed through the finish line at intervals until 8pm.
There were oohs, ahhs and even heartbreak for local favourite, Irish rider Dan Martin, when he crashed out of the race on the lower Newtownards Road in scenes shown on big screens at City Hall.
First of the 22 teams to cross the line were the Colombians, posting a time of 25:64 for the 21.7km course.
The crowd of spectators swelled further as more teams reached the finish.
Speediest were the Australian team Orica-GreenEdge, who posted an impressive time of 24:42.
Among the spectators were locals and tourists and those passionate about cycling, as well as those who admitted not knowing much about it.
However, all were enjoying the party atmosphere.
Languages teacher Paul Jeffers from Belfast was getting into the swing of it, shouting words of praise in Italian at the finishing riders.
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"I'm not into cycling at all, but we came down to enjoy the excitement," he said.
"I wasn't going to go but the wife said: 'How often does something like this come into town?', so here we are."
Veit Schopper, a surgeon from south Bavaria, travelled to Belfast for the race.
"This is my second time in Belfast and I have to say I love the countryside, the food and the people," he said.
"I have seen the Tour de France before, and I am cheering on Marcel Kittel.
"Flying into George Best Airport was something, he's famous in Germany as a great footballer – and we love our football."
Silvia Salinas from Argentina was visiting Belfast and said the Giro was a lovely bonus.
"My sons are going to be so jealous when they see my pictures," she said.
"I am enjoying Ireland, I love how friendly the people are, they are so warm and the countryside is so green, but I don't like the weather."
Jim Gorman travelled from Drogheda to watch the race.
"It's great for the world to see all the best about Belfast," he said.
"It has been a fabulous day and I'm looking forward to seeing the race going through Drogheda on Sunday."
Noel Hegarty from Lurgan took the day off work to enjoy the cycling spectacular with his son Aidan (11).
"Aidan has been really inspired. I have only got into cycling in the last six months and this is the first big race I have seen. It's great to see the best in the sport in real life."
Paul and Ruth Macartney cycled into Belfast from Whiteabbey along with their children Toni (11) and Finn (9).
"It's great for Northern Ireland to have the Giro d'Italia here," Ruth said.
"And it is fabulous to see it so well-attended."
Bruce Harper from Co Wicklow was watching with his bike in hand.
"It's fantastic to see the Giro come here, I hope it'll really help encourage more people to cycle. I'd love to see more doing it," he said.
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.