Nicolas Roche's Giro d'Italia diary: Raucous welcome at City Hall left me with great feeling of pride
Although I've been doing this diary for a few years now, I've never actually got to see it printed in the paper on the day of publication as I'm always racing abroad.
This morning though, the Belfast Telegraph will be on the breakfast table in the hotel and it will be nice to be able to actually see it in print.
With the team time trial opener this evening, my Tinkoff-Saxo team were initially due to train on our time trial bikes on the nearby dual carriageway yesterday morning, but there was so much traffic around that we hopped into the team cars instead and drove for a half an hour to get out of the city.
As we drove, it started to rain and my Wicklow-born team-mate Chris Juul-Jensen turned to me, laughing.
"Why is it that every time there's something big being televised live from Ireland it pours rain? People think it always rains in Ireland and this isn't going to help."
We both know what a beautiful place Ireland can be when the sun shines and, even though I was half expecting rain here, it's always disappointing to actually get constant drizzle anytime we touch our bikes. It's been pretty cold too, but hopefully it will brighten up when the race starts.
With nine men riding in tandem for the duration of the stage and the fifth man over the line to count as the team's recorded time, the team time trial is a complicated race and yesterday we were trying to get things in order ahead of tonight's opening stage.
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We have some riders on the team for this Giro who haven't yet ridden a team time trial as a professional. We also have three riders doing their first Grand Tour so myself, former world time trial champion Mick Rogers and the directeur sportifs took our time and tried to give the younger guys a bit of advice.
We stopped a few times to explain the technique, how to ride on the front and how to drift down the line and get the best shelter available and recover in between turns at the front.
None of them are really time trial specialists but even so, every one of them are really focused and excited about getting going.
After two and a half hours, we hopped back into the team cars and went back to the hotel for lunch, a quick nap and massage before last night's team presentation at City Hall.
My grandparents and some family and friends arrived at the hotel yesterday and it was nice to be able to relax with them and have a chat.
Again yesterday, I've had loads of visitors to the hotel and every time I enter the lobby I try to give a bit of time to everyone but it's not easy. When I'm not on the bike, I'm either eating, getting massage or sleeping.
There's a special atmosphere in the build up to a Grand Tour and it's great watching Jay McCarthy and how excited he is about riding the Giro.
Jay was only drafted into the team on Monday when our Colombian climber Eduard Beltran couldn't get a visa.
It's his first Grand Tour and when you're a bike rider, you want to turn pro to ride these races. You want to ride the Tour, you want to ride the Giro, you want to ride the Vuelta and the other big races you've always dreamed of.
Instead of arriving the night before and jumping on the bike for the first stage, at a Grand Tour, you're at the start three days before.
While it's always extra special when it's your first Grand Tour, I'm starting my 12th Grand Tour and the welcome I received at last night's team presentation at City Hall truly gave me goose bumps.
I actually think the buzz I got last night when they called up my team, Tinkoff-Saxo will beat anything else in the coming three weeks.
As the guys all walked ahead, I was announced to the crowd and allowed ride up the ramp on my own to a proper Irish welcome.
Maybe I will have butterflies like that again on the start ramp today but when you're fully concentrated on the stage ahead you don't always hear the crowd or anything else.
I finished my last race, the Tour of Romandie, more tired and more disappointed than I expected. I was competitive there but just not as much as what I hoped to be so I've tried to rest well here in the last few days, stay in my bedroom and be quiet in order to be as fresh as possible here.
I'd be disappointed not to be in the top 10 by the end of the Giro, bearing in mind that if I was preparing for the Tour of Spain I would probably aim higher again.
But it's a different type of year. I've realised over the years that I come into peak form in August and have this natural cycle where I kind of struggle with the early part of the year.
Usually, I know I can hit peak form every year for the Vuelta, so changing everything to try and be in good form here for the Giro was a bit risky.
I'm a bit lost as to how the form is going to be but nevertheless, in my mind, I'm here and set to be riding for a decent position overall.
But I've done everything I could to get in shape. I have expectations of myself and the team have too but there is no real reference point for me as to how it will go.
All of the teams will fully check out the opening time trial route this morning. The roads close from 10 to 12 so that we can all ride the course. Give us a wave if you see us.
Events to look out for
The pedals are poised and riders are ready – but there's plenty for the public to see and do too as the Giro d'Italia gets under way.
The fun starts today at Titanic Belfast and around the Titanic Quarter.
Make sure you get the best viewing spot for all the action by getting to your destination early and pay attention to any road closures happening near you.
Keep your eyes pealed for the Giro Caravan. A colourful celebration which brings a carnival atmosphere to the race as it arrives before the racers and gets cycling fans whipped in to a frenzy. Spectators are advised to be in position one hour and 45 minutes before the Giro Caravan arrives.
A hub of activity will be happening as the teams prepare for their Team Time Trial housed within the Giro Paddock.
Spectators will get a unique glimpse at the professional cyclists warming up before the action starts at 5.45pm.
The Giro Paddock is open from 9am to 8pm and has a Fan Zone with celebrities, competitions, exhibits and food and wine.
The Team Time Trial leaves from Titanic Belfast and pedals up to the Stormont Estate where there will be an Italian-themed free family festival in full swing. Go Stormont starts at 8am and lasts until 10pm that night and you can watch the action live on a large outdoor screen.
It finishes at Belfast City Hall at around 8pm. An eight-day festival called Get on Yer Bike will keep locals and visitors entertained. Tomorrow, book yourself in for a Belfast Music Bus Tour departing at noon from the Ulster Hall – a journey through the heart of a great rock and roll city. Booking is required.
Writers Square and Cathedral Gardens will be a hive of activity as the Sustrans Cycle Skills Obstacle Course lets the public have a go manoeuvring around a specially designed obstacle course.
Or why not have a go at the nail-biting slow bike race? Last bike over the line wins. Writers' Square will host Ramp-Rage's live freestyle BMX show throughout the day.
Expect big air and big beats as the extreme sports crew bring their crazy antics to Belfast city centre.
Racing starts again tomorrow from Belfast at 10.50am and moves along the scenic Causeway Coastal Route.
It ends at Belfast City Hall at around 3.55pm. The race kicks off at 11.45am on Sunday from Armagh before it rides on to Dublin for 4pm.
Traffic alert as roads set to close
Northern Ireland's biggest ever traffic management plan swings into action today.
Drivers are advised to factor in extra time for journeys and plan ahead, as more than 200 miles of roads close for parts of today and over the weekend.
As the practice session and Stage 1 get under way today, many roads from Belfast city centre to Stormont and main roads in the south of the city will be closed from 9.30am to 12.30pm and 4pm until 8.30pm. Park and Ride facilities at Cairnshill, Black's Road and Sprucefield will be open longer, with the last bus departing the city centre at 9.30pm.
There will be additional capacity on rail and bus services to get people home.
There will be rolling road closures tomorrow starting in Belfast at 8.30am and continuing north thoughout mid-Antrim then back along the north and east Antrim coast from 8am-5pm.
Translink will operate a dedicated shuttle train between Great Victoria Street and Central Station to the Titanic Quarter station from 7.30am until 4pm.
For the final leg of the Big Start a special return coach service from the Europa Bus Centre to Armagh will be available to pre-book. For those wishing to watch the finish in Dublin, Translink will operate an extra return cross-border rail service.
It must be pre-booked online.
There are some crossing points which will allow for limited vehicle access along the route, but these will be closed for long periods of time for the race.
For more traffic information visit trafficwatchni.com/giro