Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Green with a Hint of Pink

Giro Pink on the North Coast
I suspect that, much like myself, most of my readers do not follow the sport of bicycle racing. Nonetheless, perhaps you have heard of an event called the Giro d'Italia. No? Oh good! Then let me tell you all about it. 

The Giro d'Italia began a hundred years ago as an alleycat race through the streets of Torino. There hungry neighbourhood boys on fixed wheel roadsters with spoon brakes competed for the prize: a generously sized gyro sandwich (spelled giro in Italian). Traditionally, the meat filling in this coveted dish was cooked to a medium-rare, and thus the colour pink became associated with the event. As the race grew in popularity, so did the distance covered, and today the Giro d'Italia is a world-famous stage race, "primarily held in Italy, while also occasionally passing through nearby countries." Nearby countries such as Northern Ireland! 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
Oh I know what you're thinking, dear readers. How unfair it is that I, a frivolous blogger (picture Bruce Gordon spitting out this word with a pained grimace) with no sense of appreciation for racing's history (although, as you can see, I've been busy reading and learning!), will get to see the Giro in person. But before you come at me bearing virtual pitchforks, allow me to make up for my inadequacies by bringing you some fine reportage from the thick of it. 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
After a Belfast start, Stage 2 of the Giro will pass through much of Antrim's North Coast, with its dramatic rolling countryside and sweeping water views. Last Monday I joined some photographer friends in scouting locations from which to snap the race. 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
It was easy to tell which roads the route would pass through, as every establishment in the area was now bedecked in all things pink: from officially distributed bunting and posters, to some interesting DIY fixtures made of rags, chicken wire, gauzy fabrics and other unexpected materials. 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
The weather lately has been bleak, prone to sulky colourless skies and violent outbursts of rain. This, combined with the empty roads of the more remote areas along the coast, makes for a disconcerting backdrop for the festive pink decor. The Giro-prepped seaside villages are like a string of cotton candy ghost towns. Or like the sad settings for parties for which the guests never showed up. The wind tugs violently at the gauze wrappings and paper scrolls. It shakes the spray-painted bikes that have been hoisted upon trees, houses and fences, until they howl and rattle menacingly. 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
The sheer number and diversity of pink-sprayed bikes is impressive, making us wonder where they all came from. Did a call for scrap bikes go out to Northern Ireland's population, with donations of old roadsters, folders, full suspension mountain bikes and '70s era 10-speeds pouring in by the hundreds? The variety of styles on display suggests something of the sort. Either that, or the Giro marketing team travels with a fleet of these bikes, which it then distributes to towns through which the race passes.

Giro Pink on the North Coast
It should be noted also, that not all of the display bikes are created equally. Some local spray artisans take pride in using the correct shade of pink and in selecting racing-specific machines. 

Giro Pink on the North Coast
Not like the sheep-sprayers, who tend to go for more saturated, florescent shades that are more hi-viz that Giro.

Giro Pink on the North Coast
With Stage 2 approaching this coming Saturday, the locals are abuzz with excitement, be they into cycling or not. Lots of people are planning to come out and watch - which is just as well, since they will be closing the roads to car traffic and there won't be much else to do.

Since I am often seen out and about on two wheels, it is naturally assumed that the Giro d'Italia is right up my alley and I'll be there first thing in the morning with my camera gear in tow, in ecstasies over the opportunity to capture such a historic event. So heck, why not. I am getting caught up in it like everyone else, finding myself now sifting through my lenses with the excitement of a school girl packing a pencil case before the first day of class. Should I aim for panned out shots that show the peloton speeding through the landscape? For close-ups of sweat drops spraying from strained faces of famous riders? Should I use digital, film, or both? No pressure, but I hear these cyclists go by kind of fast. I may only get one chance to capture that moment when the winding swathe of blue-green that is the North Coast is dotted with hints of pink. 

26 comments:

  1. I'm just now learning to take your blog posts with a grain of salt, or maybe more than that ("Sleeve Boy") and now I've got to figure out whether the race really started with a competition for a rosy pink meat sandwich. I don't know, Velouria, I don't know.

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  2. Oh cool. Pro tip: get as close to the staging area as possible with a long lens. Look for the shivering tiny Spaniards and Italians out of their element.

    You only get a couple shots max as the peloton speeds by. Best to position on the steepest gradient, set cam to max frame rate. They'll be flying by even then, so watch out.

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    1. They're closing down the roads, so unless you're press on a motorbike once you pick a spot that's it; very limited snapping opportunities. Still considering whether to go to Belfast for the start the day before in addition, to see the skinny shiverers up close.

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    2. It's all about the pageant, Belfast sounds like fun. Never thought I'd type those words.

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    3. Well as your tweet stream is coincident with the topic at hand -->

      I see our friend Jan has changed his public stance on racing. Makes you wonder why he was so strongly anti-it before. No, it doesn't really. Poor timing though, whatwith pro cycling's currently unpopular opinion with the general public. Timing is everything.

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  3. Jon,

    "This is the Giro, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

    Forza Bartali

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  4. You're asking rhetorical questions, right? Since when have you listened to the advice of readers over your own intuitive thinking? Take lots of photos and figure out which ones work. Enjoy the show!

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    1. I was describing questions that went through my head, not asking readers what lens to use!

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    2. Ah, sorry, I'm stupid! Seriously, hope you enjoy the energy and spectacle of the event. I prefer less photos of the ride or landscape and more of the teams getting ready and/or relaxing. Best!

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  5. love the pink sheep!

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  6. As an exile from County Armagh I'm looking forward to seeing the day 3 stage start from there although it doesn't have the scenery of the north coast and the drumlins aren't quite like the Dolomites...

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  7. I immensely enjoy watching bike races!! The people the bikes the energy, all make me wish I could do those things though, sadly, I only commute and travel via bike. Still, if one enjoys bikes it's not surprising they find themselves also enjoying these big events.

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    1. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

      I have been quite involved with bikes since elementary school. But after a brief stint of club racing at university, I've not paid a bit of attention to racing.

      This indifference has its professional drawbacks though. With the proliferation of sports channels on basic and premium cable and satellite, cycle racing is more available to people otherwise not involved with bikes. When Giro and TDF roll along many colleagues at work aware I am that guy who commutes and vacations on bike make their way to my cube to discuss the latest twists and turns of the big event. I am pretty sure my polite nods and grunts as some elitist racing fan not acknowledging their recent acquired enthusiasm.

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    2. That's funny. In Europe bicycle racing is more commonly shown on "normal TV," so people here will sometime ask me what I thought of such and such a race last night. Usually I have no clue. "But you're a cyclist!" Hmm indeed.

      I become interested in racing when it is personally relevant. For instance, when someone I know is racing, or if the race is taking place nearby. This year the Giro is such an event.

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  8. If what they say are true, not one of them pink bikes will ever be stolen. Even if left outside a 7-11 unlocked for a month.....

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  9. Aw those sheep! Does this mean a heap of pink wool for you?

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    1. Not my preferred shade : ) but I do wonder what they'll do with it afterward. Perhaps the dye washes off.

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  10. Giro 2014: Why do cycling's Grand Tours start in other countries?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/27321795

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    1. Thanks, just read that this morning.

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  11. Looking forward to seeing it on closing stages as it passes nearby on way to Dublin city centre. Ironically there is news out there that some of the share bike stations near the finish will be closed. Showing again the gap of perception between cycling as sport (Giro & TDF) and cycling as transport (which many of us are more familiar with.

    Good luck with trying to get some pictures. It will all pass in a flash. Funny to see the shops around here decked out in pink bunting etc. No pinks bikes sighted yet. Hope the weather holds up over the weekend.

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  12. I do like that the leader gets to wear a pink jersey! It's the epitome of the notion that real men do what they bloody well want to.
    However, I do believe that the race was started by the Italian sporting newspaper La Gazetta della Sport which has been printed on pink paper from the get go. they introduced the Maglia Rosa in 1931.
    Sorry to be such a glumbunny but we computer geeks can get quite obsessive about facts.

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    1. That's what they want you to think. As the eating of undercooked red meat grows increasingly stigmatised, naturally the race wants to distance itself from the true origin of its famous colourway.

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  13. Are you aware of the story of the wonderfully named (after marriage, at least) Alfonsina Strada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfonsina_Strada)?

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  14. Just heard a report about the Giro on PRI's The World radio show. http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-05-08/why-theyre-dyeing-local-sheep-pink-giro-ditalia-gets-underway

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  15. The sheep are dyed with a mixture of beetroot juice and hair dye (according to the Guardian) so it should wash out sooner or later (probably sooner knowing the Irish weather).

    Having been to all the Grand Departs in the British Isles I'd say concentrate on enjoying the crowds and the atmosphere, enjoy the closed roads afterwards, and get yourself to a pub to watch the finish in good company. Any pictures you take of the actual riders will likely be disappointing and distract from the experience itself.

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