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Pretty in pink: 10 things you need to know about the Giro d'Italia

The countdown is on as the Giro comes to town this week.

Source: Giro d'Italia/YouTube

1. What is it?

Along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, the Giro d’Italia makes up the Grand Tour — cycling’s prestigious trio of stage races that are spread over a few months. Having been held for the first time in 1909, it carries a substantial tradition and history.

The Giro is part of the UCI World Tour and, along with the Vuelta, it’s the most valuable race outside of the Tour de France with the overall winner receiving 170 points.

It will start on 9 May in Belfast and finish on 1 June in Trieste. The race covers over 3,200 kilometres with twenty-one stages and three rest days.
427.6 kilometres will be spent on the island of Ireland with an initial time-trial in Belfast, a loop around the coast of Antrim and a final stage from Armagh to Dublin.

2. Where is it? 

For the first time in the race’s history (that’s 105 years), the Giro’s Big Start (or Grande Partenza) will take place outside mainland Europe.

Stage 1, which gets under way in Belfast on 9 May, is the Team Time Trail (22km) and the route includes Newtownards Road, Stormont, Queen’s Bridge, the Ormeau Road, Stranmills and Belfast city centre.

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Stage 2 gets underway on 10 May and sees the riders head off on a 218km trek from Belfast to Antrim. After that, they’ll take in Ballymena, Ballymoney and Bushmills (liquids are key) before making their way to the Giant’s Causeway, race along the coastline from Cushendall to Larne, onto Carrickfergus and back to Belfast.

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Stage 3 will see the riders set off from Armagh, through Richhill and Newtownhamilton before crossing the border at Forkhill. The stage will wrap up in Dublin with the riders traveling through Dundalk, Castlebellingham and Drogheda.

Day3Giro2014

GIRO D'ITALIA 2014 Source: Centimetri

3. Who should I root for?

There’s a strong Irish interest with three riders back in their native land.

Cycling - La Fleche Wallonne - Belgium Dan Martin will be hoping for a solid showing at this year's Giro Source: EMILIE RENSON/Belga/Press Association Images

Dan Martin is the most high-profile of those.  The Garmin-Sharp team member was involved in a crash last month in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Classic as he looked set to claim the title for the second successive year but is fit for the Giro.

Just a couple of days beforehand, Martin finished second at La Fleche Wallonne in Belgium and, last year, became the first Irishman to take a stage at the Tour de France since Stephen Roche (his uncle) in 1993. He’s got previous in the Giro too — winning a stage in 2011 and finishing 11th.

Roche’s son, Nicolas, is also involved. He’s with Tinkoff-Saxo and, last year, claimed a stage victory at the Vuelta, finishing fifth overall.

Letterkenny-born Philip Deignan has a special interest in the Giro, having holidayed on the Antrim coast as a youngster. He’s representing Team SKY for the first time in a Grand Tour event and has been hampered by injury this year, having broken a collarbone in February.

Spain Vuelta Cycling Philip Deignan will be representing Team SKY for the first time at a Giro D'Italia Source: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP/Press Association Images

Disappointingly, some household names won’t be at the Giro with Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish all absent. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador are also missing which leaves 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans as a favourite, alongside the two riders who finished second and third at last year’s Tour — Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez.

4. Why Ireland? 

A couple of years ago, there was an abandoned plan for the US to host a portion of the race in 2012. But for Darach McQuaid (brother of Pat and who had assisted in the 1998 Tour de France visiting Ireland in 1998), there was another possibility. After a chance meeting with Enda Kenny at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day 2010, the idea was mooted of the Giro coming to Ireland.

Given the economic difficulties south of the border, Northern Ireland quickly became the central hub of the Giro project. Two other locations were bidding to host the 2014 edition but with heavy political assistance in the North and the likes of Failte Ireland becoming involved, Giro d’Italia 2014 hasn’t looked back since.

Italy Giro Cycling The 2013 Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali wore the pink jersey for the majority of last year's race but won't be back to defend his title. Source: Fabio Ferrari/AP/Press Association Images

5. Pink? 

So, the yellow jersey is synonymous with the Tour de France. But the Giro’s version is the maglia rosa or pink jersey. It’s awarded to the overall leader after every stage — as well as to the overall winner. It’s the symbol of the race so expect to see many fans wearing the colour throughout.

So, why pink? Well, the race began in 1909 as a way of increasing sales of a local newspaper — La Gazzetta dello Sport. The paper is printed on pink pages.

6. Important terms

Casually slipping the Giro d’Italia into conversation over the coming days is fine. But, you don’t want to sell yourself short. Here are some important terms that, if dropped into a Giro discussion, will make you sound like an expert.

Peloton – The main pack of riders in the race. It’s a French term, meaning a forward-moving group (extra conversation points for knowing the origin of a fancy word).

Hammer – When a rider is busting a gut, leaving nothing in the tank.

Soigneur – Another French term (confusing the person you’re in conversation with is another acceptable ploy) which means ‘to care for’. The soigneurs give the riders much-needed massages, help with food and liquids and generally offer support.

Bonk – When a rider has nothing left due to a lack of food or liquids.

Draft – When a rider is tucked in behind another racer or a vehicle, trying to block the wind.

7. Essential listening

Source: TheSoundOfPlanet/YouTube

From 1983, this classic German electronica paid tribute to everyone who has ever attempted to enjoy a calm, serene bike ride but, instead, has had to battle immense muscle pain, heavy traffic and annoying pedestrians.

Ultimately though, the record is a celebration of cycling. Fitting for what’s ahead.

8. Some important numbers

  • The Giro has a potential worldwide audience of 800 million with 12.5 million having attended the 2011 event.
  • Over 200 riders will be competing.
  • Cyclists need to eat between 6,000 and 7,000 calories per day to cope with the physical demands put on their bodies.
  • Three legendary riders have won the Giro five times. Italian Alfredo Binda claimed the title in 1925, ’27, ’28, ’29 and ’33. His compatriot Fuasto Coppi was victorious in 1940, ’47, ’49, ’52 and ’53 while Eddy Merckx from Belgium was crowned champion in 1968, ’70, ’72, ’73 and ’74.
  • In 1987, Stephen Roche won the Giro before going on and claiming the Tour de France and the world championships. He became only the second rider since Merckx to win all three events.
  • The Giro has been won by an Italian rider on 68 occasions while a rider from the UK has never won it.

9. Gratuitous Alan Partridge/The Day Today cycling clip 

Source: inactualfact777/YouTube

 10. And finally…you’re allowed to get a little wistful and excited watching this.

Source: girostart2014/YouTube

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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