The Giro d’Italia is coming to the island of Ireland

Ryder Hesjedal wearing the winner's pink jersey as he picks up the title in 2012 provided by <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-308011p1.html" >William Perugini/Shutterstock</a>
Ryder Hesjedal wearing the winner's pink jersey as he picks up the title in 2012 provided by William Perugini/Shutterstock

Three stages, 22 teams and three cities – introducing the Giro d’Italia 2014’s Grande Partenza

Nine super-fit riders per team, 22 teams and hundreds of support staff: the 97th Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza is on its way to the island of Ireland in May 2014 and we couldn’t be more excited.

The Giro d’Italia will start in Ireland and race here for over three days. Stage one will see time trials whizz around the iconic sights of Belfast; a stage two race around the magnificent Causeway Coast and rural Antrim follows before stage three kicks off in the beautiful city of Armagh. The race will then track along the east coast and finish its Ireland visit in the heart of Dublin city.

Almost 200 riders in total will travel to Northern Ireland along with coaches, managers, masseurs and other support staff. You can bet, too, that their every move will be tracked by huge groups of media. Oh, and the world will be watching on TV too.

And they’re in for a treat. But really, as the fans know, nothing beats the feeling of being there in person.

Live race atmosphere

One group that knows a thing or two about the buzz of a live race is Italy’s celebrated Tifosi – the passionate Italian cycling fans. They’ll be there, along with thousands more cycling enthusiasts from across the globe, to see which rider will earn the honour of wearing the Giro’s iconic Maglia Rosa (Pink Jersey). As the colourful peloton flies past Ireland’s green fields and coastal trails, many enthusiastic discussions will fill the fresh air, making a claim on who will fare best.

So, who should we look out for?

Our island’s cyclists

The year 2013 has been the greatest cycling year the island of Ireland has known since the heady days of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche being ranked numbers one and two in the world. The combination of Dan Martin’s historic Liege-Bastogne-Liege win in April; a track world title for Northern Ireland rider Martyn Irvine in February; and, of course, the news that the Giro d’Italia is coming in 2014 have made 2013 one to remember.

Next year could easily top this one, though. How many of the island’s stars will be on the Giro start line is still not absolutely certain yet, but Martin, Roche and Philip Deignan have all signalled their desire to be at the Grande Partenza in Belfast on 9-11 May.

Martin revealed last month that, if all goes according to plan, he will be there as Garmin Sharp’s team leader. Meanwhile, Deignan has just signed for Britain’s Team Sky, who will be prioritising the Giro next year. Nicolas Roche was Saxo Tinkoff’s leader at this year’s Vuelta a España and, after an impressive showing there, he could get the nod for that role again on his home turf (which by the way, has some excellent cycling routes in its own right).

And the competition

When our island’s cyclists compete on home ground, they know the competition will be fierce: Vincenzo Nibali (IT) is the defending champion and the Tifosi will be hoping he can achieve a double; Cadel Evans (AU) won the 2011 Tour de France and is now targeting the Giro; and Team Sky’s Richie Porte (AU) has also confirmed that he will take aim at the Maglia Rosa (Pink Jersey) and the overall title at the Giro d’Italia 2014.

Other cycling superstars have yet to commit, but the Giro is one of the top races for attracting the biggest names in the sport, so watch this space. Cyclists such as Olympic gold medallist and 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins (GB); 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (GB); ex-world champion Mark Cavendish (GB); 2012 Tour of California winner Robert Gesink (NL); 2012 Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal (CA); former Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez (ES); and Peter Sagan (SK) could all be expected to open the race at the Grande Partenza.

A legacy of winning

There is hope for our island’s riders, though: When Nicolas Roche’s father Stephen won the 1987 Giro d’Italia – part of his historic ‘triple crown’ year of victories, which also included the Tour de France and Road World Championship – the gauntlet was thrown down for the island of Ireland’s riders to follow his success.

Perhaps the Grande Partenza 2014 could give them the start they need to succeed?