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Traditional gala honours Italian unity
Friday afternoon saw Turin's ambient Piazza Castello host the presentation of a Giro d'Italia aiming to celebrate 150 years of Italian unity. Beginning in Italy's first capital and sweeping south as far as Sicily before beginning the long trek back north to Milan, the race route is designed to showcase the country's sense of nationhood and collective belonging.
To emphasise the motif, the presentation was heavy on patriotic imagery, as it combined the ceremonial opening of the Giro with the annual celebrations of the veterans of the mountain brigades of the Italian army, the Alpini, who are also gathered in Turin this weekend. Two flyovers from the Frecce tricolori left plumes of green, white and red smoke to linger in the skies above, while the Alpini led the riders in a parade into the piazza.
Italian defence minister Ignazio La Russa then took to the plinth to address the Alpini only to face loud jeers from sections of the crowd as he delivered his speech. The Alpini themselves then responded only half-heartedly to his attempts to drown out the murmurs of discontent with chants of "Italia, Italia."
While this spectacle unfolded, the riders were left with a long wait at the fringes of the square before being presented to the crowds. With three gruelling weeks of racing ahead of them, there was widespread bemusement among the peloton as they stood on ceremony, and some riders understandably opted to sit as La Russa continued his lengthy oration.
Nonetheless, the Giro's main players were all present and correct in Turin on Friday afternoon. Pre-race favourite Alberto Contador was in relaxed mood as he chatted with his former Astana teammates, while Mark Cavendish joked with fellow British fastman Adam Blythe.
Vincenzo Nibali and Michele Scarponi attracted the bulk of the cheers from the home crowds, although Alessandro Petacchi, Stefano Garzelli and Italian champion Giovanni Visconti also enjoyed hearty roars of encouragement as they entered the square.
Sidelined they may have been for much of the proceedings on Friday afternoon, the riders definitively take centre stage from Saturday, as the Giro kicks off with a 19.3km team time trial from Venaria Reale into the centre of Turin.