A month ago today, the Giro d'Italia came to Ireland, with the Grande Partenza taking place in Belfast, and a sprint finish in Dublin. Orwell were all over the race, and we've included three tales below - thanks to Aideen Collard, Ivan O'Brien, and Brian McArdle.

And if you haven't read it already, check out David Fitzgerald's diary of his conquest of the Stelvio, site of much controversy in the Giro.


Marshalling in Lusk

Aideen Collard

The day before the Dublin stage of the Giro, we learned that the organisers were short of marshals so we signed up to help out. After an early start in the Swords hub and a 20 minute training course, we hooked up with the other Orwell volunteers, and as a team leader, Sarah Doody grabbed us for her Team 'R' which also included Fergal O'Sullivan, Paul Walshe and Ivan O'Brien. We also bumped into Philipa Ryder, and Eamonn Eaton who was volunteering as a transport coordinator, along with former members Patrizia Mingardi, Rodney Joyce and Mark Dunne also helping out.

Owing to lack of volunteers, there was a bit of juggling around between teams but the Orwell contingent remained intact. After gathering our pink jackets and packed lunches, we were transported out on hired Dublin buses to our patch in Lusk. We were a bit apprehensive to discover that we had to marshal six junctions between six of us but we managed with the help of a few Guards.

As the race neared, the crowds descended from nearby estates in their thousands all pinked up to watch the spectacle and there was a great atmosphere. We had a job on our hands trying to keep irate motorists off the course and ensure that dogs, kids and over eager spectators were kept at a safe distance from the race. Other than guiding a lady who went into labour through and stopping a motorcyclist who decided to drive on the pavement to bypass the road closures, it was incident free. Although there was a crash on the run into Lusk, thankfully it stayed dry, there were no incidents on our watch and the race passed through safely - job done!

We then cheered the Cycle Against Suicide through as we waited in the torrential rain for the bus to pick us up. Finally we made it into town for the CI Marshals Party and enjoyed a few well deserved pints. Overall a once in a lifetime experience and a great day out!

L-R: Paul Walshe, Ivan O'Brien, Fergal O'Sullivan, Aideen Collard, Dave McLoughlin and Sarah Doody


The Grand Tour

Ivan O'Brien

Day 1: myself and Killian (aged eight) tried good portions of the TTT route, and managed to avoid the manhole that did for Dan Martin. Killian, of course, stuck to my wheel and pretended to be knackered until we passed over the rise before the 10km arch, then sprinted past me towards the crowds! The buzz was unbelievable, and I never thought I would see Stormont, of all places, bright pink. The Presbyterian church on Newtownards Road with its "God Loves All Races" sign and Irish Dancing demo was particularly good!

Pink at Stormont

Killian enjoying Belfast

Day 2: cycled in early and watched as all the buses arrived. The access we had was amazing, and seeing the contrast between the liked of BMC (total control freaks, with money to burn) and the other teams (Europcar racing biked just piled up against the side of a van, with nobody minding them all) was fun to see. The grand departure was just full of energy and excitement.

After that, a drive into the raincloud that just followed them around all weekend. As we approached Cushendall there were cyclists of all sizes and abilities congregating (some will have had a long, lonely, cold ride home afterwards) and we were lucky enough to happen upon the Orwell Team Car. Thanks to the lads for looking after Killian so well - I think he had the best view going of the race itself!

From sunshine in Belfast...

...to the rain of Cushendall

Day 3: an Orwell crew, ably led by Sarah Doody, were assigned to look after a bunch of junctions in Lusk. Dave Mc got a yard brush delivered so that we could remove all the gravel from "our" roundabout and we would like to state, for the record, that the big crash in Lusk was at the OTHER end of town! The crowd built gradually, with a few irate locals who had to be told firmly that no, they would not be going to Rush until after the race passed!

Finally the sound of the choppers filled the skies and the leaders passed through. Naturally, a kid released a bunch of balloons onto the road a few seconds before the peloton arrived, so I had to sprint over and remove them from the road. You could really see how knackered the riders were as they passed, with those who had just crashed (notably Edvald Boasson Hagen) just looking royally pissed off and a few others (mainly the Astana guys) with their gear in total shreds.

As they passed, a sunny day turned nasty, and the heavens opened in biblical style for a good half hour, as we hid under our umbrellas. The Cycling Against Suicide peloton followed shortly afterwards and we wore our hands raw clapping the never-ending flow of bikes through.


So what did Killian make of it? Lots of "why are we just standing here, Dad" at the time, but a huge thumbs up and great memories afterwards. At least he hasn't started asking me for a TT bike just yet!


How to join the Giro

Brian McArdle

I had the pleasure and misfortune of spending four days in a cottage with Denis Gleeson, Stephen Hayden, John Twomey, and Maria Basso. Though the latter was technically in the other half of the building, and we sadly never even caught a glimpse of her. Denis and John had secured us tickets for the team presentation on Thursday evening, where we met up with Alan Duggan. It was the perfect start to the weekend, watching all the riders parade up on to the stage - each team followed by their team leader cycling up the ramp. That included Nicolas Roche and Philip Deignan - who both got huge applause - and Dan Martin, who was the only one who walked up with his bike. I wonder if he regretted the lack of practice the next evening... Marcel Kittel was the surprise highlight of the night: affable and good-natured, he really knows how to work a crowd.

Friday morning we pedalled in to recce the TTT course. It was interesting to see the different approaches teams took. Some teams were checking the technical aspects of the course, just taking it handy; others were going nearly all out, making sure they were well drilled. Movistar did at least four laps, showing their intentions early. We checked out the start area, and came back there later before the actual event, where we met plenty of other Orwell members (past and present). We got a quick photo with Giro legend Stephen RocheTom Blennerhassett and DID's Caroline Martinez were giving Matt Stephens pronunciation advice, while Dave Tansey was spotted checking out Nico Roche's undercarriage.

We camped out at the first corner to watch the teams start out, along with Gráinne Coghlan and Louise Keane (check out Louise's photos on Flickr). Denis got his range of flags out, but we don't think Eurosport ever picked us up. Mags Donnelly and Emma Convey stopped by for a quick hello, having travelled via first class on the Enterprise with Eddie Lynch. We were on the wrong side of the track to say hello to Nico, but we did give him a big roar, and got a smile and a wave for his old club in response.

Nico gives us a wave (photo thanks to Louise Keane)

For the first road stage, we headed out to Ballymena to watch the race roll through. Massive crowds lined the route, but we nabbed a nice spot on a low wall. Raingear and umbrellas kept us dry while we waited for the four man break, then an Orica-led peloton. Then while the riders made their circuitous 100km loop, we drove the 30km straight across to Cushendall. It was there we first learned the power of the Orwell club car.

We neared the village looking for somewhere to park, when we hit the course, fenced off by cones and 'road closed' signs. As John tried to figure out the best way to turn the car around, the marshals started moving the cones and waving us onto the course. We didn't need to be told twice! We spied Ivan O'Brien's Orwell jersey as we waited, and gave Killian a prime viewing spot on the roof of the car (it's been washed since!). You couldn't help but feel sorry for the riders, they looked sodden. We crowded inside the local pub to watch the finish.

The three wise men of Cushendall

The night stage that evening saw a decent Orwell turnout, but it nearly had a nasty end for us. Taking a wrong turn on the way home, we ended up on the Shankhill Road, in a car that we suddenly realised bore more than a passing resemblance to a tricolour. Thankfully JT had his wits about him to pull a quick handbraker and get us home safely.

Next morning we headed for Armagh, where we were once more directed onto the course by the PSNI, and parked in a handy car park in the city centre. As in the TTT warm-up area, we were able to get right up close to the riders. The likes of Cadel Evans and Nairo Quintana passed us by only a few feet away, Michael Matthews in the maglia rosa. John Caffrey of Lucan was there working with Europcar as well.

As the race departed town, so did we. Now we discovered the curse of the car. We couldn't get off the course! At every junction we were waved to follow the race. Even as we got out of town, the side-roads were blocked off and closed. We were on top of the cavalcade at one point, with the peloton in sight, when a PSNI vehical approached us from behind. John wisely pulled in, and eventually we found a very quiet side road, and escaped south of the border.

From the high of following the race...

...to the low of being escorted off the course.

Our final stop was the feedzone in Castlebellingham. We drove onto the race course (as usual!) and parked up on a grass verge. We stuck out like a sore thumb though, and a Garda motorbike moved us on when we told him honestly we weren't part of the race. We did get an escort off though. Denis and John went far upstream in search of bottles and bags, while myself and Stephen stayed a little closer to the feed zone finish. They were far luckier with their haul of musettes, while I ended up with mostly gels and food, and one lousy TACX bottle.

The haul!

We raced back into Dublin, stopping off at my house to watch Kittel come from nowhere to take his second win. Happy for the smiling German, but the end of stage three meant a return to reality. Some great memories of the Irish Tour of Italy (the Italian Tour of Ireland?), thanks to the lads for having me along - a truly unforgettable trip!

Lots of photos from Louise Keane at Flickr, and likewise from myself for the team presentation, the TTT, Stage 2 and Stage 3.