Ballycastle goes cycling mad as Giro comes to town
200 cyclists set off from Belfast for 219km round-trip along the north coast
Riders start for the second stage of the 97th Giro d’Italia cycling race. Photograph: Luca Zennaro/EPA
The pack rides along the Antrim Coast Road during the second stage of the 97th Giro d’Italia cycling race, 219 km from Belfast to Belfast. Photograph: Paul McErlane/EPA
The Italian invention of the radio was marked today as the riders of the Giro d’Italia sped through the seaside town of Ballycastle on the edge of Northern Ireland’s north coast.
The harbour on the northeastern corner of the country has a memorial to Bologna-born electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi.
In July 1898 he carried out one of the first overseas radio broadcast between Ballycastle and nearby Rathlin Island.
His discovery was to aid shipping along this picturesque and remote coastline and throughout the rest of the world.
Today Ballycastle is more known for edible seaweed, fishing and farmers’ markets.
But for a day the town went cycling-mad, with the crowds thronged several deep along the narrow road into the tiny port.
Spray flew from riders’ bikes as they free-wheeled into a tight corner which marks the beginning of one of the main ascents on the second stage of the Giro’s Big Start.
About 200 cyclists set off from Belfast to travel along the north coast before returning to the city.
Ballycastle is on the far extreme of the Causeway coastal route, whose centrepiece is the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.
Children waved tiny flags thrown by race sponsors. Pink shirts and wigs were everywhere. One man at the Marine Hotel sported a shirt adorned with rose-coloured flowers.
Hotel general manager Michael Yates said he was expecting 700 to 800 people throughout the day.
He added: “This shows that Ballycastle is a seaside town that can compete with the best of them.”
A giant Mr Blobby outside gave out sweets and nearby the telephone box had been painted pink.
Yellow man, a sweet rock-like confectionary associated with the area and beloved by children, had gone pink for the occasion.
Ballycastle is at the beginning of a steep ascent up into the Glens of Antrim and back down onto the dramatic coastal route which brings the competitors back to Belfast.
In front of the riders peddled the Fondo, amateur enthusiasts often wearing pink shirts, their frames at times contrasting with the razor-thin physiques of the professionals.
The non-professionals stood on their pedals as they climbed the hill section and up into the Glens of Antrim, an area of spectacular beauty, narrow winding turns and lined with broadleaved trees draped in early spring greenery.
Pink bicycles adorned many gate posts, three magenta balloons fluttered from many other driveways and spectators gathered in some of the remote areas around the hill stage..
This was the first chance the rest of Northern Ireland has had to see the Giro, following an opening ceremony and first stage in Belfast.
Yesterday Ireland’s Dan Martin was left bitterly disappointed after a time trial crash in the city caused a broken collar bone.
Canadian rider Svein Tuft was experiencing very different emotions at the finishing line as he was delivered the “perfect gift” of the leader’s pink jersey on his 37th birthday as his Orica GreenEdge team took the opening stage.
He said: “It is a dream come true.”
Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir had even got in the spirit of the memorable occasion as he dyed his hair pink.
Tomorrow the action switches to Armagh and the race from Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital to Dublin.