Northern Ireland

After successful Giro, is next stop Tour de France?

The Giro d'Italia took in some of the most scenic routes in Northern Ireland Image copyright AP
Image caption The Giro d'Italia took in some of the most scenic routes in Northern Ireland

The successful staging of three days of the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland has led to speculation about a bid for part of the Tour de France.

The pink-themed Giro may be the most colourful cycle race in the world but Le Tour is still, by far, the most famous.

Part of it is being held in Yorkshire this summer; Northern Ireland may consider bidding for a stage in 2017.

No decisions have been taken. The key players are still recovering from the completion of the Giro, after an intensive two years of planning .

The weather was not kind during the Giro.

A chance to show a global TV audience the causeway coast at its sun-lit best was lost in a blur of rain and grey skies.

Nonetheless, the organisation of the race - and the most complicated traffic management scheme in Belfast history - went off with barely a hitch.

In the lead-up to the race, there had been disappointment that the big name British riders - Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome - were not competing in the event.

Image copyright BBC mark simpson
Image caption Northern Ireland really got into the spirit of the pink Giro

However, once Stage One began on the Titanic slipways in Belfast on Friday few people seemed to care.

At almost every corner, the Giro riders were greeted with a sea of pink, whether it be bunting, banners, flags, shirts, hats or wigs.

On the causeway coast and south Armagh, creatures great and small were dyed pink including sheep, horses and goats.

One of the Italian organisers is reported to have been so overcome by the passion and enthusiasm with which people adopted the pink theme, at one point he was reduced to tears as he watched the racing.

More than 7,000 traffic cones and 4,000 temporary road signs made sure the 200 international cyclists had a clear road in front of them as they hit top speed.

If the Giro was a test of Northern Ireland's capacity to stage international events, it passed; just as it did in recent years in hosting the G8 summit in Fermanagh, the Irish Open golf in Portrush and the MTV awards in Belfast.

However, bidding for big events is not just about organisational skills, it is about cash.

The Giro cost Northern Ireland around £4.2m to host.

Even though Stormont says it expects to get that money back in short-term visitor spending, and a long-term tourism boost, big bids need big money up front.

In England, the company set up to coordinate the organisation of the opening three days of the Tour de France has a total budget of about £27m.

Some of that money came from central government but local authorities have also had to put their hands in their pockets.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The race headed south from Armagh city towards Dublin as the sun finally shone on the riders

Leeds City Council's contribution is reported to be £3.6m.

Someone somewhere needs to find a large pot of money if the Tour de France is going to come to Northern Ireland.

The race has been on the island before, back in 1998 when part of it was staged in the Irish Republic.

That was a boom time for cycling, before the recent drug scandals. However, the sport is on the rise again and an upsurge in interest is expected in Ireland north and south in the aftermath of the Giro.

Watch out on the road for an increase in the new species known as MAMILs - middle-aged men in Lycra. And women too.

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