The excitement etched on the faces of those queued in the rain outside City Hall on Thursday gave some indication as to just how big a coup it is to have the Giro d’Italia in Northern Ireland.
The Giro symbols adorning buildings and the brightly coloured items of clothing many were wearing to keep up with the race’s official pink theme helped add colour to an otherwise grey, mizzly Belfast day.
While the weather wasn’t ideal, those who spoke to the News Letter were perfectly content to stand and wait for their cycling idols to take to the stage.
As soon as news of the race’s start in Northern Ireland broke German Yvonne Doering was determined to make the trip to Belfast.
The 31 year-old, who now lives in Waterford, said she and her boyfriend “just had to come”.
“It is not every day that an event like this takes place in Ireland,” she said. “We are very excited to see the final line-ups revealed and especially rooting for Marcel Kittel (a German rider).”
Aylesbury journalist Richard Hook said he was taken aback and impressed by how Belfast had embraced the event.
“I was at the Tour de France stage in London and it just wasn’t the same in terms of the build-up. Every single building here has some reference to the race and everywhere you look leaves you in no doubt that the Giro is here. I think it is fantastic.”
The 29 year-old has followed cycle races in Napoli and Rome before but said the atmosphere in Belfast had so far been at least as good as those experiences.
The race on Sunday makes its way from Armagh to Dublin where Filippino couple Laarni and Jude Binongo will welcome the riders to their city.
But on Thursday, despite being without tickets, they travelled to Belfast and secured their places at the City Hall railings by the early afternoon to see top cyclists Cadel Evans and Nicolas Roche before the race begins.
The couple, dressed in some official Giro gear, said the organisation around the event had been very smooth.
“We thought it would be really hard to find a parking space but it was fine and we have been able to stand somewhere with a great view,” they said.
North Down Cycling club member Matthew Ormesher, from Newtownards, said the event will do wonders for the local economy.
“It is huge, for the economy, especially with the way things are at the moment,” said the 42 year-old. “This will bring big money into Northern Ireland.”