One of the most coveted prizes in world cycling
The Giro d’Italia’s start in Ireland is is a rare foreign outing for the event
Begun over a century ago as a promotional vehicle for the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Giro d’Italia has since become a cycling event steeped in legend, tragedy and romance.
Its place in Irish sporting history was secured in 1987 when 27-year-old Stephen Roche from Dublin swept to victory ahead of local favourite and Carrera team mate Roberto Visentini. As it became clear the Dubliner was looking strongest when the race hit the mountains, the Italian fans lined the climbs booing Roche. Some of them waved lumps of raw meat in a bizarre attempt to intimidate him.
Roche would go on to win the event, and also lift the Tour de France trophy and world road race title that year.
And the following spring Seán Kelly from Carrick-on-Suir in Co Waterford would follow his compatriot’s exploits with victory in the Vuelta Espana. The two Irish men held the sport’s biggest titles.
Having existed for more than 100 years, seen Europe torn apart twice by world wars and the map of the Continent redrawn several times, the Giro has become the second largest and next most coveted professional cycling race in the world, behind only the Tour de France.
The leader of the race is awarded a pink jersey, the same colour as the pages of the paper that established it.
Both are owned by Italian RCS MediaGroup, which, along with the local authorities in Belfast and Dublin and the tourism boards in both jurisdictions, is now bringing the race to Ireland for the first three stages next year.
The race takes place over three weeks. The event is famed – or notorious – for its mountain stages of up to 200km and passing through the Alps and Dolomites. And it is on those, often snowy, passes that the race is won, heroes are made and reputations battered.
With no major mountain passes to speak of in the Belfast area, where the first two Irish stages will take place next year, or between Armagh and Dublin on stage three, the action in Ireland will most likely suit the sprinters in the race.
The organisers will be hoping the drugs issue that has plagued professional cycling for decades will not force its way into the proceedings as it did when the Tour de France started in the Republic in 1998. Back then a team official for the French Festina squad was caught on his way to catch a ferry to Dublin with a car filled with drugs. It lifted the lid on what was the biggest doping scandal the sport had seen, though eclipsed since then by the case of disgraced US rider Lance Armstrong.