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