The dust has barely settled on the 2013 Giro d’Italia before the wheels are already starting to spin to put next year’s corsa rosa in motion.
The 97th Giro will make an historic start in Belfast, the thriving capital of Northern Ireland, with three days of racing that will also include a stage into Dublin before transferring back to Italy.
It’s an ambitious project that will bring the peloton into the heart of Ireland and provide local organizers a platform to show off sweeping changes in Northern Ireland to an international audience.
“The symbolism is huge,” said project director Darach McQuaid. “Starting in Belfast puts an important message out there. It will make a statement, and the start of the Giro is going to shout that out.”
Rocked by decades of violence and political upheaval, Belfast today is a thriving, vibrant city that is keen to show off its new colors since the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which helped put an end to decades of conflict.
Local organizers have embraced the idea of starting the Giro in Belfast and have worked to bring the project to fruition by next year’s start in early May, McQuaid said.
The idea took seed in 2009 and 2010 when McQuaid, the brother of UCI president Pat McQuaid, first floated the idea to Irish officials.
With Ireland mired in economic crisis, he approached Belfast, where he quickly found enthusiasm for the idea. He took the plans to Giro officials, meeting with Angelo Zomegnan and his successor, new Giro director Michele Acquarone, who also found the idea appealing.
A site visit last year by Giro officials sealed the deal.
“The Giro officials liked what they saw,” Darach McQuaid said. “Everyone is working together to make this happen.”
Route details will be hammered out in July when key Giro officials spend a week in Ireland to scout possible routes. The general outline, however, is already set.
Belfast will play host to the opening two stages, including a route along the spectacular northern coast at Giant’s Causeway. A third stage will start in Amargh and cross into Ireland, finishing in Dublin, which hosted the grand depart of the 1998 Tour de France.
From there, the Giro entourage will board planes to return to Italy. Organizers are still finalizing details of where the Giro will return to Italy.
McQuaid said organizers are getting around logistical challenges by creating a self-contained entourage that will stay in Ireland.
“We are going to replicate everything here, so there will be no coming and going to Italy,” McQuaid said. “When they arrive in Italy, there will be another set waiting for them there.”
More than 300 cars, vans, and trucks will be organized in Ireland, allowing teams and riders to travel to Belfast with a relatively light load. Teams will have the option of bringing their own vehicles.
Other infrastructure, such as the podium, starts and finishes, and race barricades will all be provided locally, meaning the transfer back to Italy should be dramatically easier.
Giro officials got the green light from teams before signing off on the project.
McQuaid said he’s also hoping the Giro’s departure will help revive sponsor interest in the Tour of Ireland, which stopped for a second time in 2009 after a three-year return.
“Cycling is absolutely booming in Ireland,” McQuaid said. “There is significant interest in relaunching the Tour of Ireland. It’s a good time for Irish cycling right now.”