Gelderland served up some hot Italian racing in the ‘Big Start’ of the Giro Gelderland.

For a record third time, the Netherlands played host to the Giro d’Italia, the cycling Grand Tour made famous by its pink leader’s jersey. Previous editions of the Grande Partenza have been held in Gronigen in 2002 and Amsterdam 2010. To celebrate the 99th running of La Corsa Rosa, the province of Gelderland threw a massive weekend party in the cities of Apeldoorn, Arnhem and Nijmegen. The routes twisted and turned though the Hoge Weluwe National Park, crested the Posbank and even took a run along the Rhine river. All to the delight of throngs of fans and partygoes who basked in the nearly Umbrian-like weather.

Gelderland had reason to hope for a successful event on the heels of well attended start of the Tour de France in Utrecht last year. All three of the Grand Tours have come to embrace a start or stages on foreign soil as a promotional tool and money maker. The Giro still plays second fi ddle to its French counterpart but that was of little consequence to the Gelderlanders who fl ocked to the parcours to witness the spectacle of a charging peloton whizz by on millions of Euros of the best cycling equipment in the world. Mother nature seemed to endorse the arrival of the Italian extravaganza and bathed the province in sun and summer temperatures. Shirts sleeves were rolled up and the smell of suntan lotion along the barriers was unmissable.

In the hospitality areas, the Italian infl uence was not limited to the sun and heat. Mortadella, Prosecco and even Birra Moretti were trucked in and served up by Italian staff. Fresh, light pink copies of LaGazztta Sportiva adorned the tables where espresso served as a good balance for the rumsoaked cakes knows as babas. In fact, the whole production was a bit of invasione italiana. This was readily apparent at the race headquarters in the Omnisportcentrum velodrome in Apeldoorn. The building was abuzz with an army of workers, the lion’s share of whom had come in from Italy to run the fi rst days of the Giro.

The staging of portions of Gran Tours outside the country of origin is nothing new. The Netherlands may have pioneered the concept with a Gran Depart of the Tour de France from Amsterdam in 1954, but have since been joined by an ever expanding list of countries. The Tour still leads the list of forays on foreign soil with 21 and will visit the Westphalian city of Dusseldorf in 2017. While that may boost the shopkeepers take in the city of Altbier, the Gran Depart of Berlin in 1987 certainly held some political sway at the time and preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall by only a couple of years.

The Giro has been playing catchup with Tour in terms of starts abroad with Giro Gelderland being its 12th non-domestic start. Geographers will wink in knowing that the list includes San Marino (1965) and Vatican City (1974), but the list of Gran Departs outside France also includes the enclave of Monaco. The Italians payed a visit to Northern Ireland with a ‘Big Start’ in Belfast and insisted on maintaining the name for the Giro Gelderland. It’s a name which does not do the Dutch fl air for language justice but could prove very handy if rumors of a project in Japan come to fruition.

Organising the world’s largest and most prestigious cycling races comes at a price. A large share of the costs, including sizeable fees to the organisers are underwritten with taxpayer money. More than a few eyebrows were raised when in the span of less than 12 months, all three Gran Tour starts were hosted in The Netherlands. The Tour of Spain, the Veulta kicked off the madness in Drenthe but the hubris really tipped the meter when the Amsterdam announcement of a Giro start was upstaged only weeks later by the news that the Tour’s Gran Depart 2010 would take place in rival city Rotterdam. The Giro Gelderland did not face any such competition but was subject to its own scrutiny. The media brought the budget and lack of sponsors in the spotlight but that all seemed to fade in the early May sunbaths over the host cities. At the departure area of Nijmegen on the third day of the Giro and last of the Big Start, one government offi cial was overheard saying that not everybody understood the positive impact of such an event. While the number of extra pizzas sold and hotel rooms booked because of the Italian megaevent will take time to tally, it is interesting to note that the artistic megaevent of 2016, the Bosch exhibit in Brabant, attracted fewer visitors on twice the budget but has widely been seen as a huge success.

The hot weather in Gelderland not only ensured throngs of public right from the team presentation in Apeldoorn to the kisses on the podium in Arhem, but also set the stage for some fever-pitch racing. The opening day saw an individual time trial win and pink jersey privileges for the Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin (Giant- Alpecin). The third stage, a return trip from Nijmegen to Arnhem saw the local hero Martin Tjallingi (Lotto- Jumbo) climb the Posbank fi rst to take the nlue jersey as King of the Mountains and ride into Arnhem to a thundering roar as if he had won the entire race. The actual winner of the third stage was the same as the day before, Dumoulin teammate and sprinter extraordinaire: German’s Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin). Kittel’s sprint fi reworks brought scintillating ends to the two Dutch road stages and the German boarded his fl ight to Italy with the pink jersey tucked neatly into his baggage.

With the pink fl ags and pink backs tidied up from the streets of Gelderland, the Giro moved on to Italy and a fi nale in Torino. What remain are the memories of three glorious days in the sunshine and a cycling party that will not soon be forgotten. Bravissimo Gelderland!