Ulster-bound Giro d'Italia just as big as Tour de France: Stephen Roche.
IT is going to be BIG. And the people of Northern Ireland won't know just how big until the Giro d'Italia arrives in May, according to cycling great Stephen Roche.
The Dubliner, who won the Giro in 1987, as well as the Tour De France and the World Road Race Championship to complete a stunning triple crown that year, is also convinced the massive event will inspire kids here to become future champions in the sport.
Roche was speaking after being inducted into the Giro d'Italia Hall of Fame following in the footsteps of the legendary Eddy Merckx — the only other rider to win the Giro, Tour and Worlds in the same year — and three-time Giro winner Felice Gimondi, who received the honour last year.
How fitting that this giant of Irish sport was in the shadow of the Giant's Causeway yesterday to receive such a mighty award as the build up to the Giro gathered pace.
The Hall of Fame ceremony at the Causeway Hotel was the first of its kind held outside Italy. Hosted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), in association with race organisers RCS Sport and media partner la Gazzetta dello Sport, it attracted a large number of Italian journalists.
The magnitude of the Giro is clear to those close to it, but perhaps not quite yet to those living in the country set to host more than 200 of the world's elite cyclists and stage the first three days from May 9-11 including the Grand Partenza or ‘Big Start'. That will be watched in 165 countries and by 775 million people around the globe.
“The Giro is as big as the Tour de France,” said Roche.
“When all the riders and all the teams and everything else that comes with the Giro arrive for ‘The Big Start' in Belfast everyone will be amazed by the size of the event.
“I don't think the people of Northern Ireland will know just how big the Giro is until it gets here.”
When it does thousands of spectators are expected to line the route across the country before the race heads towards the Republic.
Roche says the kids in the crowd will be inspired to get on their bike just like Bradley Wiggins or indeed his own son Nicholas, both of whom are competing.
“I think the Giro will definitely inspire youngsters here to become involved in cycling and I'm sure that there will be future talents coming along, so it is up to the Cycling Federation of Ireland to put programmes in place to capitalise and maximise the effect of the Giro being here,” said Roche.
“This is an opportunity for people in Northern Ireland to see the best of world cycling on their doorstep. Cycling has become more popular in recent years with some dads now buying their children a bike instead of a football and the Giro will make it even more popular in this part of the world.”
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster added that the Giro can leave an Olympian style legacy in Northern Ireland.
The Fermanagh lady said: “I think a bit like the impact the Olympics had, the Giro will bring young Northern Ireland people into the sport who were not interested in it in the past.
“If you lived in a rural area like me you were used to growing up with bikes but people in a city perhaps aren't. I very much hope that everyone will get involved in the Giro.
“It is a great world renowned event and it is fantastic that it is coming to Northern Ireland.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital