Giro d'Italia stars thank Northern Irish public: 'You guys have been amazing'
They're the toughest guys of one of the world's toughest sports.
But the cycling stars of the Giro d'Italia have been left touched by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response of the Northern Ireland public to the Grande Partenza.
As thousands of fans turned out on a third day for a fleeting glimpse of the peloton, some of the riders took an opportunity before breaking for the border to thank them for a very pink welcome. The Giro appears to have captured the imagination of the Northern Ireland public like few others, and organisers and riders alike have expressed amazement at the reception they have received as supporters, bedecked in the race's emblematic pink, have thronged the roadsides, often in driving rain.
Ahead of the start of the latest leg, which wound its way through Co Armagh before crossing the border for a finish in Dublin, race leader and holder of the pink jersey Michael Matthews paid tribute. "You are all incredible," said the Australian cyclist. "I was so cold yesterday and you were five deep the whole course. I am truly honoured to be part of this whole event and you guys have been amazing."
Nicolas Roche, the 29-year-old Tinkoff-Saxo rider, whose father Stephen won the Giro d'Italia in 1987, described his experience so far as "super-intense".
"We never expected there to be so many people," he said. "It is very exciting... I'm sure we are going to do well."
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott also thanked the fans.
"Look at the colour, look at the atmosphere, it's a carnival and celebration," he said, after posing for photographs with one Giro fan's baby. "It's been a privilege with the PSNI to be part of it all.
"Obviously a lot of detail and meticulous planning went into this and from our perspective it's gone very well. It's evidence that Northern Ireland is still one of the safest places in world.
"Apart from the fact we occasionally have events that worry us, the world is moving on and this is exactly where the future lies – it's in people coming together to celebrate the great events we can have."