Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Stormont tops the pole as everyone gets in the pink

Riding high: a rider from the Lotto-Belisol team cycles up the hill at Stormont during the team time trial

They came in their thousands. Cheering, applauding and roaring their appreciation. The rain may have been pouring down, but spirits were not going to be dampened.

This was a special, spectacular night. The weather? Who cares?

The Giro d'Italia, one of the world's iconic sporting events, was here in our wee country and the people of Northern Ireland were going to savour it, enjoy it, relish it and lap it up.

The support throughout the entire route of the first stage was sensational, but Stormont was best of all – a sight to behold.

It's normally a place where red, white and blue and green, white and gold can dominate.

Not last night.

PINK was in and everything else forgotten with the riders surrounded by young and old, encouraging and inspiring the men on two wheels to climb the hill approaching the statue of Edward Carson and Parliament Buildings.

The place was packed. If the politicians manage to get these numbers to come and cast their vote in the European elections, they will be doing well!

The Giro definitely got the vote last night.

This opening section of the historic race is called the Big Start.

Never has that label been more appropriate.

The crowds in Belfast were huge from where it all began at Titantic Quarter to the finish at the City Hall.

Poor Daniel Martin, the Irish rider who fell, may not have had a good night, but everyone else did especially birthday boy Svein Tuft, taking the pink jersey on day one when he led his team Orica Greenedge home in the quickest time of all the 22 outfits in the Team Time Trial.

The Australian team were perhaps fortunate to avoid the worst of the weather, but given that they were favourites before the first stage started, they may have triumphed anyway.

Canadian Tuft wasn't bothered... he woke up this morning in the pink.

And if last night's reaction from the public was anything to go by today and tomorrow's stages in Northern Ireland will be rosy too.

This is the 97th Giro d'Italia.

The first foreign start came in San Marino in 1965 and a year later it was held in Monaco. After that the Giro went to Belgium (1973), Vatican City (1974), Greece (1996) France (1998), Holland (2002), Belgium (2006) back to Holland in 2010 and Denmark in 2012.

I'll bet though the riders have never experienced a welcome like they witnessed in Northern Ireland 2014.

At the opening ceremony on Thursday the grounds at Belfast City Hall were packed for the introduction of the teams and riders.

And last night the feelgood factor continued as the biggest sporting event ever to take place here got under way.

Kids had smiles on their faces. Ditto mums and dads.

There was a joyous atmosphere in the air.

Expect cycling shops to make extra sales after this. Everyone will want to get on their bike.

An estimated 140,000 spectators are expected over the three days of competition here which will head to the Causeway Coast today and Armagh tomorrow.

Belfast defeated a bid from the beautiful city of Venice to bring the Grande Partenza outside mainland Europe for the first time with Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise admitting the total cost of hosting the race was around £4.2m.

It seems well worth it now.

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