BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — The Giro d’Italia is headed for Ireland and a big logistical challenge in 2014, but race director Michele Acquarone was confident this week that his team would pull off a seamless transfer back to home roads in the race’s first week.
With cycling’s governing body, the UCI, recently ruling that three-week tours such as the Giro cannot have a rest day until after the first week of racing, the logistics of an Irish Grande Partenza in 2014 will mean transporting riders, staff, bikes, cars, buses, vans, and a host of race equipment to Italy from Dublin on May 12 next year in time for stage 4 the following day. This appears a significant undertaking, but Acquarone insisted this week that, unlike other races with logistical difficulties, there would be no shortcuts taken. In fact, the Giro may even undertake a time trial opener with TT equipment.
“It’s a grand tour. It’s the Giro d’Italia and [the teams] will want to use everything at their disposal so they will have a time trial bike and a road bike and it will be the same as in Italy, just everything will go on a plane afterwards,” said Acquarone. “Maybe we won’t have the time trial [in Ireland]; we’ll have it in Italy. Maybe we won’t have it in Italy, we’ll have it the first day here. We have to check what’s the best for everybody because of the transportation of bicycles, cars, and buses and everything. But we are here today because of the big passion and the professionalism of Irish people. Everything is almost done and we are pretty confident that everything will be ok.”
With the opening two stages due to start at the Titanic Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and end at the City Hall, before a road stage from Armagh in Northern Ireland to Dublin, it’s possible that the opener could be a prologue time trial or even a team time trial, although Acquarone hasn’t ruled out a short road stage either.
“All of those three options are good,” he said. “That’s what we have to define exactly. We now have to complete the rest of the course. We have some ideas of course, but we now have to check with the teams, with the riders, that everything is fine. Today is the big announcement and we’re so happy, but we know the logistical challenge of getting the Giro here is big.
“We had to work for two years to make it possible. We will be here for three days and then we have to go back to Italy on Monday. I think we will have a short day on the first day, Saturday, then a longer stage on Sunday to show the world the landscape and the coastline of Northern Ireland and then we go from Armagh to Dublin on Monday and we have to rush back to Italy very fast.”
With its attempts to build the Giro into the most exotic of the sport’s three grand tours, RCS Sport took a great deal of criticism under previous director Angelo Zomegnan. Long transfers and the failed Monte Crostis experiment in the 2011 edition were in part responsible for Zomegnan’s ouster from the race later that year.
The 2012 edition started in Herning, Denmark, the most northern Grande Partenza in the race’s history. The Belfast start won’t match the northern latitude of the Danish opener, but will be the Giro’s 11th start on foreign soil and the first of two U.K. departs in 2014, as the Tour de France will launch in Yorkshire, England, just under two months later [Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., while the Republic of Ireland is independent].
While Ireland’s band of professional riders is growing each year, at the moment only two of them, Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), qualify to ride the Giro as members of WorldTour teams, although Acquarone hinted he would look favorably upon teams at the Pro Continental level with Irish riders for 2014.
This could be good news for UnitedHealthcare, which has former Vuelta a España stage winner Philip Deignan and new world scratch race champion Martyn Irvine on board this year. Stephen Clancy (Novo Nordisk) and national champion Matt Brammeier (Champion System) are two more second division Irishmen who may have to rely on wildcard invites for their respective teams in order to participate.
“Definitely, I would like to see the Irish WorldTour riders at the start and I always say that every Pro Continental team has a good chance to come to the Giro. We just ask them to present us with the best project, the best reasons to come to the Giro. They are very welcome,” said Acquarone. “Definitely, having Irish riders will help. I think it’s a great opportunity for home riders to come here on their own streets, in front of their own families, and ride the Giro at home.”
Before next year’s Irish Grande Partenza, however, Acquarone has more pressing problems this year with the reintroduction of Katusha to the WorldTour meaning he will have to accommodate an extra team at the Giro. The affable Italian did not seem unduly worried in Ireland this week.
“If you plan everything and everything is done and then they change the rules, you have a problem,” he said. “But we will find a solution for sure. We have time and I’m really confidant that with common sense we can do everything right and sort it out.”