2014 Giro d'Italia stage 3

When people evoke the halcyon days of cycling they focus, quite rightly, on Messrs' Roche and Kelly. Hardly surprising given the sheer magnitude of what they achieved, but they were helped on their way by two more fine Irish riders.

In 1989 Paul Kimmage assisted Roche at Fagor, and would become well known amongst cycling fans as a journalist and whistle-blower. However it was another Dubliner, Martin Earley, who carved out his own piece of Giro history in 1986.

A second year professional, he arrived at the Giro in exceptional climbing condition. He’d won a stage at the Tour of the Basque Country, and on the first big day in the Alps decided to try his luck. On the final climb to Sauze he jumped out of the general classification group and then, six hours into his marathon, caught the loan breakaway rider. He then soloed to a really beautiful win. Bravo Martin. Bravissimo...

Most people know something of the Irish diaspora, but its sheer scale never ceases to amaze. An estimated 70 million people worldwide claim to be of Irish descent, over ten times the population of the island itself. There are twelve towns named Dublin in the United States alone, and others in Canada and South Africa.

All of which explains why 2013 was the year of "The Gathering", a year-long call to arms for Irish populations the world over. The essence was simple enough – Villages, towns and cities the length and breadth showcased the very best of Irish heritage and culture, and issued an open invitation to everyone of Irish extraction to rediscover their roots. It was a great success, though we’re pleased to report that not all 70 million came at once...

The Giro is no stranger to foreign starts, and nor to innovation. In 1973 legendary race director Vincenzo Torriani decided to have the race begin in the Walloon textile city of Verviers. Why there? It was home to one of the biggest Italian communities outside of the peninsular, and it was right at the heart of the nascent European Union. The Tour de France had seen fit to begin at (of all places) Plymouth, and Torriani wasn’t in the business of being usurped by the Transalpini.

The opening stage was a bizarre affair. It replicated the Trofeo Baracchi, Italy’s great two-up time trial, albeit over just 5 kilometres. The great champion Eddy Merckx rode it with Roger Swerts, and promptly assumed the pink jersey he’d keep all the way to Milan. He thus became only the third rider – after the campionissimi Costante Girardengo and Alfredo Binda – to achieve the feat.

To be honest the riders have virtually no time to take in the romance of where we are, or the idea of being in Ireland. Their job is to eat, ride, massage and sleep. Mine is to take care of them psychologically and spiritually, but we staff have a little bit more chance to appreciate the surroundings. We’re working, but even though we live the race 100 per cent, there are moments in the ammiraglia when we can relax just a little bit.

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