Giro d'Italia: Ulster showing others how to do it, says race chief
New Giro d'Italia Race Director Mauro Vegni is confident huge crowds will come out to watch the event in Northern Ireland over the next three days.
And he has promised spectators lining the route exciting action and possible thrills and spills, revealing that the riders are in for a challenging and testing time due to the unpredictable nature of the Ulster weather.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, ahead of tomorrow's Big Start in Belfast, he stated that the welcome the competitors have received here is an example for other cities hosting major sporting occasions.
Vegni himself is relishing the prospect of the Giro being in Northern Ireland for the first time and while others might suggest the early stages of this year's event will have a ceremonial feel, the Race Director thinks otherwise.
He said: "From a technical point of view I would expect a real competitive start in the race.
"I believe given the weather conditions we will have a very interesting time trial and two very demanding stages where riders will have to watch out because the wind and conditions may pose some dangers or difficulties for them when they are not in perhaps their best possible condition early in the race.
"I really do expect three very interesting and challenging days at the start of the race.
"Unless the competitors pay careful attention they could find themselves in dire straits.
"Due to the position of Ireland beside the ocean and the weather conditions they have here that is why the riders may encounter more difficulty than in previous Giro races when we started in Holland and Denmark."
On the subject of the crowds watching the riders whizz by, Vegni added: "I believe we will have very good results in terms of spectators because the expectations for that have been high since we decided to come to Northern Ireland.
"You can see in Belfast how it has been dressed up to look the part.
"A huge deal of communication work has been completed so that the public are aware of what is happening.
"We expect a lot of participation from the people here and big crowds on Friday and Saturday in Northern Ireland and again on Sunday before the race moves on to Ireland.
"During the last 10 years the Giro has improved on an international scale.
"Perhaps up until the year 2000 it was considered more of an Italian event but now it is internationally renowned.
"Recently the focus has switched so that it is not just seen as an Italian race with Italian riders but an international race with riders from all over."
Unfortunately some of the top international riders such as Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish are missing as is last year's Giro winner, Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who is concentrating on the Tour de France.
"I am satisfied with the line-up," said Vegni.
"You have to acknowledge the importance of the Tour de France but in the last 10 years thanks to the efforts of other people who came before me and my work as well I think we have greatly reduced the gap compared with the Tour de France.
"There is still a long way to go but I'm not afraid of that."
The Race Director pinpointed Colombian Nairo Quintana, considered by many as the favourite for the 2014 race, and Australian Cadel Evans as riders to watch.
He also feels that Irish stars Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan and Dan Martin will receive plenty of support in the coming days.
Many of the top riders were at yesterday's press conference including former Tour de France winner Evans, who said: "I think I can speak for all the riders when I say we don't know what will happen over the first few days.
"This is my first time in Northern Ireland like a lot of the riders.
"The first few days will be about not losing time rather than making gains.
"It will certainly be a challenge. It's a case of into the unknown in that we don't really know what the conditions will be like.
"Also some of the roads are narrow and it's a big group, with a lot of the riders wanting to be at the front."
Addressing safety concerns about being in Northern Ireland, the straight-talking Aussie added: "I'm happy to be here. I feel safe enough.
"We've raced in a lot less safe places than this," he added.
Evans is highly impressed by the welcome the riders have received.
"I have seen signs up everywhere for the Giro.
"It's special to take the race to another country – it makes the Giro even more special than it would usually be.
"Obviously it's not here every year – this is the first year – and that makes it a very special event.
"The Giro is the first Grand Tour I ever did and this one is going to be very interesting."
Roche stated that he was delighted to have the chance to compete here but did not feel being from Ireland would offer him a major advantage on the road while Quintana, not wishing to get too far ahead of himself, insisted he would be taking one day at a time – starting tomorrow when it all begins.