Giro d'Italia 2014: Belfast pink and proud as Grand Tour arrives

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Dan Martin is part of the Garmin-Sharp at the Giro d'Italia

For once, Belfast's orange versus green stand-off was left completely in the shade as the Giro d'Italia's signature pink was all pervasive on a memorable night of sporting action.

Cycling big names such as 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and race favourite Colombian Nairo Quintana were among those on the start line as this year's opening Grand Tour got underway in the city's Titanic Quarter.

However, the real stars on a typically showery Northern Irish night were the spectators who turned up in their tens of thousands to deliver a spectacle that Belfast will surely never forget.

Hordes of enthusiastic fans packed seemingly every bike length of the opening 21.7 kilometre Team Trial as the 180 odd riders started off yards from the famous Titanic Slipway before heading on a route which included the Newtownards Road, the Stormont Estate and the Stranmillis Embankment before the return to the city centre.

Alas for Irish hope Dan Martin, like the famous ocean liner, his journey from Belfast proved brief as a tumble on the Newtownards Road ended his Giro scarcely before it had begun as he was left with a broken collarbone after sliding on a manhole in the wet conditions.

Australia's Orica GreenEdge win the team time trial at the Giro d'Italia

Martin also brought down three of his Garmin-Sharp team-mates down during his tumble and it was later confirmed that Koldo Fernandez had also sustained a broken collarbone despite bravely soldiering on to the finish.

Canadian rider Svein Tuft was experiencing very different emotions at the finishing line as he was delivered the "perfect gift" of the leader's pink jersey on his 37th birthday as his Orica GreenEdge team took the opening stage.

"It is a dream come true," added a seemingly stunned Tuft.

"The entire course was lined four or five deep with people screaming and wearing pink, it was fantastic."

Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir had even got in the spirit of the memorable occasion and dyed his hair pink although it did appear borderline purple to a few colour experts.

"Belfast has embraced Giro, I think, like no other city," added the Sinn Fein politician.

"It's wonderful to see the entire city turn pink. We've lots of colours in this city and sometimes they divide us, but the colour pink and the Giro has united us."

For their part, the visiting Giro bosses appeared genuinely thrilled by what they had seen as the opening night of action confounded scepticism about how a major cycling event might be greeted by the local populace.

"As soon as we arrived earlier this week, we knew we had made the right decision," said Paolo Bellini, director of Giro organisers RCS Sport.

"On the way from the city from the airport, pink seemed to be everywhere and it was wonderful for us to see.

"We have been given a tremendous welcome here and tonight's atmosphere was fantastic."

Belfast could take a bow and there was plenty more Northern Irish action to follow with Saturday's stage around the North coast in addition to Sunday's start from Armagh as the riders headed towards Dublin on the last afternoon of Giro action on the Emerald Isle.