Published Thursday, 08 May 2014
Nicolas Roche received a hero's welcome at city hall. (© Pacemaker)
Roche, 29, who rides for the Tinkoff-Saxo team, was visibly shaken by the hero's welcome he received on Thursday evening ahead of his first official appearance at Friday's team time trial.
He thanked the crowd for their warm welcome, adding: "I'm speechless. I always thought it would be great if there was some big event to come to Ireland.
"When you think of a big event you think of the Tour of Italy and it's unreal to think that it has come to Ireland.
"I obviously spoke to the team quite a bit and I'm so happy that they made it possible for me to take part in the Giro."
Roche said the switch over to training for the Giro meant a big change to his programme and brought "a whole new approach" to his technique.
But he said the team were out to compete and determined to give the home crowd something to cheer.
Fellow Irish competitors Philip Deignan, of Team Sky, and Garmin-Sharp's Daniel Martin, were also met with a rapturous reception as a sea of pink swept across the city for the opening ceremony, while Maglia Rosa hopefuls Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez and Cadel Evans all promised to make it a great race.
Belfast's Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Minister for Enterprise Arlene Foster joined their Italian delegates on stage to officially open the first Grand Tour of the year before the party really got started.
Mr Ó Muilleoir called on spectators to put the country on the map with more than 800m people in 174 countries expected to tune in during the next few days.
Welcoming "the greatest athletes in the world", he said: "The Giro is a first class, world class, sporting event, coming to the city of Belfast. Where do you put the greatest cycling race in the world? You put it in the greatest city in the world, in the city of Belfast. Welcome Giro."
Stage one will see the 22 teams compete in the team time trial over 21.7km. Departing the Titanic Quarter at 5.45pm on Friday, the route will take riders along the Newtownards Road down to Stormont, before returning to the city and finishing in Donegall Square North at around 8pm.
On Saturday the peleton will head out of the city for Ballymena, making its way past to two King of the Mountain points - at Cushendall Road and Carrickfergus - and traversing back into Belfast to again finish at Donegall Square North, having completed a staggering 219km.
The Giro will leave Belfast for Armagh on Sunday, where the 187km stage departs Northern Ireland for Dublin. Along this stage the riders will have an early test with two King of the Mountain locations en route, but a bunch sprint is expected around Dublin's fair city shortly after 4pm.
© UTV News