UK & World News

  • 10 May 2014, 2:14

Giro d'Italia Race Raises Hopes In N Ireland

The winner of the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland has said he has achieved "a dream come true" and thanked the crowds along the route for their "fantastic" support.

Svein Tuft described his Orica-GreenEdge team's performance along the 21.7km time trial course around Belfast as the "perfect ride".

While proudly wearing the pink jersey, the maglia rosa, the Canadian said: "It is a dream come true."

Tuft said he was impressed by the crowds, adding: "The entire course was lined four or five deep with people screaming and wearing pink, it was fantastic."

The Giro d'Italia is the second largest cycle race in the world and every second year, they stage the opening outside Italy.

With a global audience of 800 million, nowhere has been more grateful for the opportunity to create a new impression.

Opening stages include Parliament Buildings at Stormont, home of the devolved government, the Giant's Causeway and cathedral city of Armagh.

In towns along the route, election posters were replaced by pink bunting and balloons; one village dyed the sheep pink.

It reflects the colour of the newspaper behind the Italian race, contrasting the distinctive yellow of the Tour de France.

In a bid to win the leader's pink jersey, competitors were racing past loyalist murals on Belfast's Lower Newtownards Road.

On the opposite side of the road, pink bicycles had been attached to the railings of the local Presbyterian Church.

Rev Mervyn Gibson said: "There are people from all background, all denominations, all nationalities here. People from Wexford have been in the church, people from France, people from Australia, Roman Catholics, Protestants, we're not asking anyone where they're from, they're all welcome in east Belfast."

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein's M?t??Muilleoir, said the race gave people a glimpse of the future.

He said: "We love our colours in Belfast but sometimes our colours divide us. It's wonderful that the colour pink has united us. Sport has united the city. Sport has united the country. We need to build on the positive energy. We need to build confidence in Belfast and what Giro's doing is giving us real confidence in the future."

When bidding to host the Giro, the devolved government estimated that it would cost 4m but generate 12m in tourism.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness suspended their recent hostilities to welcome the teams to Belfast.

The Democratic Unionist Party Leader and his Sinn Fein partner in government had clashed over the arrest of Gerry Adams.

Tensions over flags, parades and the legacy of the past continue to cast a shadow over political progress made here.

The Giro d'Italia illustrates the potential if politicians can resolve these outstanding issues and bring peace over the finishing line.

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