Last Sunday, along the East Coast of Ireland, was Giro D’Italia Day.
Yes, that’s right, the Giro d’Italia descended upon our shores last weekend to complete Stage Three of that prestigious cycling event. And no, it’s not an annual event here in the Emerald Isle. We just got lucky this year.
Much though I love to take my bike out for a spin, I am pretty clear that this is biking of a very different sort. Beyond that, my knowledge is limited. But it didn’t stop me from getting out there to see what all the fuss was about.
The publicity machine behind the Giro have been doing their best to educate us for the past few months. Full and half page advertisements have been running in the newspapers for months and advance warnings were posted about traffic restrictions in all the towns along the route.
The Discover Ireland people produced this very attractive promotional video.
And lots of homeowners went to great trouble to decorate their homes in with Giro pink balloons, and bunting.
Some even went to the trouble of dyeing their sheep!
(Image from theirishpost.co.uk)
And, over the weekend people from all over Northern Ireland and the Republic, turned out, in their droves to cheer the riders on.
Or perhaps, like me, find out a little bit more about this cycle racing lark.
I certainly found out what it was to be part of the crowd at a bike race.
Early arrival was essential, as the Giro signs had impressed upon the locals what road would be closed and when. With extra traffic anticipated, and rolling road closures, travelling and parking would be a little more challenging
Onlookers started to arrive some two hours before the predicted race arrives at my chosen hotspot. Most were dressed in an assortment of layers as befits our recent multiseasonal weather. Pink clothing abounded too,of course, with the occasional pink umbrella and one brave soul even sporting pink hair.
There was the low hum of good-humoured conversation, punctuated by occasional laughter. Most folk were happy to wait for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Most people. Except Jessica.
But Dad, I don’t want to sit on a stone wall for two hours!
I’m telling ya, Jessica, this is the best spot. You will see the riders coming down that hill and up that one.
Jessica if ya don’t stop that moaning, you can hit the high road now an`start walking home
Gardaí (that’s what we call our police force) manned the barricades and were having their patience tested too.
“You can’t cycle across the road son, you have to walk”
“No Ma`am we can’t open the barrier til the race passes”
“It should be here in around fifteen minutes”
Of course thirty minutes pass before the first of the headlights come into view. The crowd turns their head in expectation. And the van flashes its lights obligingly. But it’s just a merchandise van. Still, with Giro emblazoned on the side it is surely a portent of the oncoming peloton.
A Garda traffic car zooms past and eventually a team van.
Then nothing for another age. The threatening rain now falls in heavy plops and umbrellas are raised in defence.
Suddenly, a siren…
A cavalcade of Garda motorbikes spans out along the route, one driving raising his arm to the crowd who cheer enthusiastically, the others a little closer to the crowd to encourage them to keep off the road. Next the lead car and then, and then….
My camera is in movie mode and the clustered pack of cyclists has disappeared as quickly as it has appeared. It barely registers on my screen.
The lead pack have gone in a blur.
Honestly, someone should’ve told those guys to slow down a sec so we could see them properly.
But the race is not done. More cars and then, cresting the hill, a line of blue and green helmets glisten as they hove into view. Big cheers from everyone. I think I am witnessing what people in the know, and wikipedia, call a peloton. But to my uneducated eye it looks more like some gargantuan alien has landed. There isn’t a human in sight. Instead, it’s a blue and green multilegged speed machine writhing its way expertly around bends and over hill with fantastic speed and agility.
More cyclists follow. The are threaded in little groups amid the caravan of accompanying team cars. These cars must be vital team support vehicles as each one bears racks of bikes on their roofs as they follow along the route.
All too soon, another car arrives, helpfully brandishing a sign reading Race End. The crowd laughs and starts to disperse.
Of course all this clashed with my allocated Long Slow Run, as per the Hal Higdon plan. But I figured a way to fit in the Giro and keep Hal happy. I’d arrived early to bag my car parking for the Giro and then ran three miles of the LSR.
That shortened the wait and kept me happy and warm as toast while waiting for my first Giro fix.
Afterwards, I travelled some of the Giro route along the coast and ran a very pleasant five miles around Skerries.
Delightful views of course added to the meditative pace. Here too, the Giro had left its mark as it tacked along the coast and on into Dublin city centre. Skerries had thrown a festival to celebrate the Italian invasion though, true to my missed-the-best-parties form, the festivities were well over by the time I arrived.
But my solo run more than compensated, as it was more tai-chi than taxing amidst the ethereal scenery of a Skerries cool summer evening.
With the sun glowering over banks of charcoal cloud, my slow shoe shuffle came to an end. Beside my car, a piece of Giro pink balloon, lay burst and tattered in the roadside puddle, a symbol of the passing of Giro day.
The Giro D’ Italia brought a glow to the east coast and a glow to many a heart and for many a different reason.
May we live to see it again.