By Roberto Salvador, head of Operations and Logistics at RCS Sport
Michele Acquarone first introduced me to Darach McQuaid in September 2011, revealing the idea of hosting the start of the Giro d'Italia. When I asked which country, he replied: 'Ireland'. I thought it was a joke at first. Then I realised it was a serious but slightly crazy project.
However at RCS Sport we love a challenge and so I started working on the idea with my logistics team, especially with Luca Piantanida, who is responsible for cycling. We also included the other areas of RCS Sport, including Sport, Marketing and Communications to understand the problems that a Grande Partenza from an island 2000km away from Italy would cause.
We quickly realised that it wouldn't be easy. To make things even more complicated, the UCI introduced a new rule that stops the first rest day of a race being placed before six stages have been completed. That meant that after three stages in Ireland, we'd have to return to Italy and hold stage four on the very next day.
Starting in Ireland would mean that all the structures we use at the stage starts and finishes would have to be created twice: for Ireland and for Italy. Other cars and motorbikes would also be needed, with training for people to get used to driving on the right of the road.
The most difficult moment will be the transfer back to Italy and for the teams, that means looking after the riders. Everything will have to be planned in detail and carried out with military precision. We've already opened talks with the teams and rider associations (the AIGCP for the teams, headed by Jonathan Vaughters, and the CPA, headed by Gianni Bugno), to study things in detail to plan the logistics and the organisation of the stages. As well as the 2000 people that make up the Giro d'Italia race caravan, the riders' bikes will also have to be ready to fly back to Italy.
Northern Ireland became involved in the project at a later date and the Grande Partenza from Belfast has added a further political and cultural dimension to everything we will do. In Italy we've always been proud that the race helped unite Italy, even in difficult historical moments. We're proud that the Giro d'Italia can help play a small part in helping the relationship between the two parts of Ireland. Belfast will host two stages, with a third stage from Armagh to Dublin.
We've already given Darach a list of all our needs and the problems we will face. The perfect organisation of our trips to study the stages, the meetings with key partners and the police, has convinced us that the Grande Partenza from Ireland was possible.
Some people in Italy don't understand why the Giro d'Italia needs to start in other countries and are often critical of our decision, thinking it's purely an economical decision. Yet RCS Sport's first objective is to create events that entertain our fans, be they in Italy or anywhere in the world. We consider starting from Ireland or from the Netherlands or Denmark – the last two international Grand Partenza, a unique experience for everyone.
We officially presented the 2014 Grande Partenza from Ireland yesterday and it was an emotional moment for everyone involved. We had messages of congratulation from all over the world! It was a first success for us.
Now it's time to begin the operative part of the project, to make it happen. We've planned everything very carefully and nothing has been left to chance. It's going to take a huge effort to pull it off but we're sure it'll be something special.