Long after the last pink balloon has disappeared skywards and the riders have flown south to Italy on Monday morning, riders say past evidence shows the Giro d’Italia Gran Partenza from the Netherlands is sure to leave a lasting cycling legacy.
The 2016 Giro d’Italia is the third start from the Netherlands for the Giro and the 12th international start in its 99-race history.
Philip Deignan of Team Sky, the Irishman who participated in the 2014 Giro d’Italia when it started in Belfast, told Cyclingnews on Sunday that the race in Ireland has definitely left a legacy and he expects the same in the Netherlands.
“The Giro Gran Fondo in Belfast takes place just the week after the Giro finishes and in terms of cycling in Ireland and the UK overall, it’s grown incredibly, too.” He also confirmed that people still ask him about the Giro d’Italia whenever he returns home, in part thanks to that start back in 2014.
“It’s special when it starts in your home country,” Deignan explained, “I’ve definitely got fond memories of that. But when you see the atmosphere here, too it’s amazing. I think a lot of the riders are happy for Grand Tours to start in other countries, specially when you get receptions like this. The travel tomorrow [Monday] will be a bit difficult, but yeah, it’s nice.”
Deignan suggested the crowds are bigger in the Netherlands than in the three days in Ireland, with organisers reporting roughly a quarter of a million fans lined the route in the Netherlands on Saturday.
“But the weather” - which was not so benevolent, with stage 2 into Belfast ending in a downpour rather than the very warm temperatures in Holland - “wasn’t so kind, either, so probably more people here.”
Whilst he has not chatted about the Giro starting in their home countries to Dutch riders, Deignan says he is sure that “they feel the same as I did back in 2014, they’re racing their home roads and that’s something special for a Grand Tour.”
One lasting memory for Deignan, two years on, from the Gran Partenza in Ireland was the “huge amount of Donegal” - his home county - “flags on the stage going out that way. That and the noise of the crowds, it gave me goose bumps.”
“My mates arranged a bus from [one of Donegal’s largest townsl] Letterkenny to go to the Giro start in Belfast, and they filled that up and then they had to get a second one and even then they had to get a third one. It was very nice to have so many home faces.”