Giro d'Italia cycles out of NI

Giro d'Italia cycles out of NI

Northern Ireland has said arrivederci to the Giro d'Italia as the third stage left Armagh on Sunday morning on its way to the 'Big Start' finishing line in Dublin.

Three scintillating days of action saw thousands of people take to the streets as the region turned pink for one of the world's best cycling races.While many fans donned pink t-shirts and hats, others have made an extra effort, with an array of pink animals spotted along the stage routes in what has been dubbed a resounding success which exceeded the greatest of expectations.Stage three left Armagh city at 11.45am, heading out towards the Markethill Summit and Fews Forest.The riders then progressed to Dundalk and Castlebellingham on their way along the east coast.German Marcel Kittel won the final Irish stage in Dublin, crossing the line at about 4.20pm, after winning the Belfast leg the previous evening.Ahead of Stage Three, race leader and holder of the pink jersey Michael Matthews paid tribute to the fans."You are all incredible," said the Australian cyclist. "I was so cold yesterday and you were five deep the whole course. I am truly honoured to be part of this whole event and you guys have done amazing."Senior church figures from both sides of the region's traditional divide gave blessings to the riders before their Armagh departure with Cardinal Seán Brady, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, delivering his in Italian.He was one of the few not clad in pink but, pointing to the red belt around his robe, he later stressed: "This was the nearest I had to pink."The cleric added: "It's a great joy to welcome these superb athletes here and to wish them well. We are delighted that they have chosen Northern Ireland to begin the Giro."I never realised it was gonna be such a turn-up and such a fantastic event. It’s been exceptional the support I had over the last few days.Nicholas RocheStormont tourism minister Arlene Foster said the organisers had been taken aback at how Northern Ireland had embraced the race."They are blown away," she said. "They are saying it's the best start they have ever had to the Giro d'Italia and when you get that from people who have been all over the world, it's incredible."Mrs Foster said the enthusiasm had been generated in part by the novelty value."I think because it's something completely different, people in Northern Ireland really haven't seen anything like this before," she explained."The whole country is pink - it's been marvellous."Three days of trouble free racing were also hailed by PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott."Look at the colour, look at the atmosphere, it's a carnival and celebration - absolutely fabulous," he said, after posing for photographs with one Giro fan's baby."It's been a privilege with the PSNI to be part of it all."Obviously a lot of detail and meticulous planning went into this and from our perspective it's gone very, very well indeed."It's evidence that Northern Ireland is still one of the safest places in world."Apart from the fact we occasionally have events that worry us, the world is moving on and this is exactly where the future lies - it's in people coming together to celebrate together the great events we can have."The three-week race, which was won by Ireland's own Stephen Roche in 1987, now heads back home to Italy.


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