Pink tint as Giro begins
Published 09/05/2014 | 13:12
All of Northern Ireland seems to have been coloured pink for the start of the Giro d'Italia this weekend.
Everything from Belfast City Hall to the famous Samson and Goliath shipbuilding gantries has been bathed in pink light, while the Belfast Telegraph has come off the presses on pink paper.
And when the riders head north out of town on Saturday, they will go through villages fully decked out in pink, pass fields of sheep dyed pink, and even the odd horse has been sporting the colour.
The significance is that the riders will be vying to earn the pink jersey - the Maglia Rosa - that goes to the Giro leader.
But this is not just about a cycle race. Northern Ireland sought the Grande Partenza of the Giro to boost tourism, but far more than that, organisers hope the race can restore civic pride, still striving for it 16 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
"It seems to have captured people's imagination, and to a much greater degree than I would have anticipated," said Alan Clarke, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. "People might not even be remotely interested in cycling but they want to celebrate this and that's part of the regeneration of Northern Ireland.
"It's about having a bit of civic pride. That's a big part of our campaign, to make people proud of where they come from. I think the Giro will take that to a new level."
It is not entirely altruistic, of course. Northern Ireland's tourism chiefs pursued the Giro because they knew it could offer them the sort of exposure they could only dream of.
After investing millions of pounds in new attractions such as the Titanic Quarter and the new visitors' centre at the Giants Causeway, they needed a way to sell it, and hosting a bike race which is broadcast to an estimated 775 million people in 174 countries does the job.
Northern Ireland has invested around £4.2million in hosting the race, but reckons to be getting media coverage worth at least £10million in return.
The hope is that it will draw tourists and investment, but also show local people how much their homeland has changed.
"Those helicopter shots of the causeway and coastal road will go around the world," Clarke said.
"You can't buy that. But just as importantly, the BBC will be showing it locally and it will give people pride in how it's being portrayed. You can't put a price on that. We wanted to showcase Northern Ireland and we wanted an event that could do it. This was win-win for us."