Martin’s Giro hopes dashed as he slips in team trial

Huge crowds gathered to cheer riders through first stage

Belfast had partied in pink for hours before the Grande Partenza or Big Start of the 2014 Giro d'Italia.

But the celebrations unexpectedly turned into drama when Irish rider Dan Martin’s front wheel slipped on the wet road near Short Strand and he crashed heavily on his left shoulder, flooring three team mates in the process.

Many in the huge crowd harboured hopes he might have been the manin the pink jersey after the initial team trial. But his Giro lasted just 20 minutes, not three weeks.

Rather than taking the podium at City Hall, he ended up in an ambulance being treated for a suspected broken collar bone.

Thousands turned out for the first stage as it rolled out from the Titanic centre beside the twin cranes – Samson and Goliath – in the docklands, up to Parliament Buildings at Stormont and back to City Hall via the leafy Stranmillis area and the University Quarter.

Buildings along the route were swathed in pink while the lamp posts near Stormont were wrapped in the Giro’s colour. Visiting broadcasters spoke of the warmth as well as the scale of the welcome from the city which has opened its arms to the great race.

Shops, businesses, houses and even an old people’s home near Stormont joined the “pinkification” craze that swept the city. There was pink everywhere – from the pillars at Stormont to the wheels of a young child’s wheelchair; its occupant clearly amazed as the riders flashed past at more than 60km/h.

Some 22 teams, each with nine riders, came down the ramp at regular intervals for the start of the team time trial.

Colombia was first off with great roars ringing in the calm evening air. Large crowds watching on dozens of large TV screens along the course joined in the chorus, even though they were miles away.

The decibel level rose for Team Tinkoff Saxo and Ireland’s Nicolas Roche. There were shouts of “Niko, Niko” as his team swept along the Newtownards Road. Many among the crowd, too young to recall Niko’s father’s Giro triumph 27 years ago, roared as if they did.

Ulster's own Philip Deignan, the pride of Letterkenny, also stoked up the crowds as his team battled an unexpected downpour which made conditions trickier – and slower – for the teams in the middle order.

A sharp corner near Stranmillis college tricked some riders who ploughed into the spectators or had to bunny-hop the kerbstones. But no harm was done.

The later starters also enjoyed the benefit of dry conditions and they targeted the early leaders Colombia and their 52km/h average speed.

But it was Orica Greenedge, and birthday boy Svein Tuft from Canada, who took the honours and head into today's road stage through Co Antrim to the Giant's Causeway in the pink.

Follow the Giro
Saturday: 218km stage starts in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast shortly before 10.30am. Travelling inland, it heads north through Ballymena towards Bushmills, before returning along the Antrim coast road, arriving at City Hall in Belfast shortly after 4pm. The caravan of associated vehicles will be travelling about 90 minutes ahead of the peloton.

Sunday: 187km stage leaves The Mall in Armagh shortly before 11.30am, and is due in Upper Merrion Street in Dublin at about 4.15pm, after travelling through Dundalk (expected at about 1.40pm), Drogheda (2.40pm) and Clontarf (4.05pm).

The caravan will be travelling about 1 hour 45 minutes ahead of the peloton.

Road closures along the route will take place on both days well in advance of the cyclists and their accompanying vehicles.

Details on: http://www.girostart2014.com/