BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — The fans, the race organizer, and the city officials grinned when the Giro d’Italia kicked off Friday afternoon in Belfast. They helped continue a trend in grand tours, especially the Italian one, of going abroad.
The Giro has started outside of Italy 11 times, with this year the first time away from mainland Europe. The 2014 Giro spent two days in Belfast and another day traveling from that city to Dublin, Ireland.
The teams departed for Bari, in the south of Italy, on Monday. Race organizer RCS Sport even planned an extra day of rest — three instead of two — and spent more money to make the start possible.
“Look around, compare Naples last year to Belfast this year. Fans love it here, they come out in huge numbers and paint the town pink,” the organizer’s former chief, Michele Acquarone, told VeloNews.
Acquarone lost his job over the winter due to a financial scandal, but beforehand, he planned the Giro’s trip to Belfast.
“We do it to attract new fans. The Giro is an international event and it has to attract fans from around the world,” he said. “We are exporting the Italian culture aboard, which is good for Italy. That was my main goal, to take Italy abroad and to attract new fans. If the race gets bigger, the show is better for everyone.”
Acquarone added that abroad, it is easier for RCS Sport to obtain money from the cities for the right to host the event. The start cities must pay even more since in return they have the Giro for more days and earn greater publicity for their city and area.
“When you deal with one country, for sure, they have more money than one town like Turin or Naples,” said Acquarone. “Here we dealt with two countries.”
Cities in Italy pay up to $275,000 (€200,000) to host a start or finish, but to have the Grand Départ, it costs $2.06 million (€1.5m) or more. The Belfast Telegraph estimated that Belfast and Dublin put up $6.13 million. The economic impact on the island, however, is supposed to be around $16 million.
The Tour de France charges even more and makes more of an impact. To have the 2015 start, Utrecht, Netherlands paid $13.7 million (€10m). However, the Tour is to make an economic impact of 10 times that amount.
The Giro is pushing the limit, too. In 2012, it took its race to Herning, Denmark, the furthest north any grand tour had ever visited. The problem though is that the race has to travel back to its home. Belfast, for instance, is 1,205 miles away from RCS Sport’s headquarters in Milan.
“We are far from Milan, even further from where the race will restart in Bari!” said Luuc Eisenga, president of the teams’ association, AIGCP.
“You have to strike a balance between what you ask from the riders and where you take the race to gain new fans. The compromise has been good, we have an extra transfer day and the organizer compensated the teams for the extra costs.”
Eisenga added that going abroad is good for the teams because it strengthens their sport. “If there are open talks between the teams and organizers, the grand tours and the sport can go far.”