Downpours fail to rain on country's parade as fans tickled pink by Giro
Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30
With faces flecked with mud and scratches, simultaneously elated and exhausted, it was clear this had been an endurance test.
There had been crashes along the way; Michael Matthews practically lost the seat of his pants; Nicolas Roche got an ill-timed puncture; and, some had been so cold as they winded their way down the north- east coast, that they had been reduced to the desperate measures of pouring warm water on themselves to ease their cramping muscles.
At the end of it all, a triumphant Marcel Kittel collapsed off his bike at the finish line, completely spent.
Not that the spectators weren't suffering, too. There was no way of dressing for that weather with torrential rain turning to baking sunshine as we waited patiently for the peloton to come our way.
And just as we squeezed through the crowds to secure an optimum spot, it turned out that the cyclists whizzed through far too quickly for us to get a good look at them. It was all over in seconds, really.
But still, it was worth it.
Even the build-up had been exciting, with an exotic Italianate atmosphere afoot in the capital as preparations got under way at the finish line.
With the Italians in charge, there were certain differences. There was more glamour (obviously). And there seemed to be less of the health and safety police.
Nobody really checked the media passes and there seemed to be a general feeling that if you wanted to do something stupid like standing in front of a speeding herd of cyclists, that was your own look-out, idiota. An entirely sensible attitude, in fact.
But the Italians – and the cyclists – were equally impressed with us. They hadn't been expecting such a welcome, it seemed. "Just getting used to this Irish style of Giro d'Italia . . . the people are much friendlier than the conditions," Aussie cyclist Cadel Evans managed to tweet – though presumably not from his bike.
As the peloton made its way through Dundalk, Dunleer, Drogheda and Balbriggan, thousands lined the route.
In the capital, the crowds slowly gathered throughout the city streets, all along Westland Row and into Merrion Square as the atmosphere began to build.
Most election candidates had obeyed commands to take down their posters – though People Before Profit's Brid Smith and Fine Gael's Nadine Meisonnave still smiled mischievously down at prospective voters. Labour had left a poster up, too.
A Giro D'Italia Fan Park set up in Merrion Square kept children entertained with face painting, balloons and games such as the diabolo.
Glen Hale from Sheffield had cycled the Giro route down from Belfast with a group of friends. "It was wet," he grinned. But he had been on a great holiday. They were on a roll this summer, he explained, with the Tour de France start kicking off in Yorkshire later in the summer. "We'll be doing it all over again," he said.
Darach McQuaid, who brought the Giro to Ireland, later said the support the event had received showed the future was bright for cycling here.
"To have Irish riders of the calibre of Nicolas Roche, Dan Martin and Philip Deignan race in the Giro for top teams is a great sign," he said.
The daddy of Irish cycling, Stephen Roche – who won the Giro in 1987 – strolled through Merrion Square with family members, delighted with the atmosphere. "It's great for Ireland," he said.
Shortly after, came the hooting of horns, the publicity 'Caravan' was the first to arrive, with a fleet of pink London taxis. Sometime after, with a drumbeat of urgent music, everybody rushed into position – the Giro was coming. And it came – with a blinding aerodynamic whirr and a flash of 'blink and you'd miss it proportions' as the riders crossed the finishing line.