What exactly is the Giro d’Italia or la Cosa Rossa (the Pink Race), and what is it all about?
It is what it says on the tin, the Tour of Italy, and for its 97th edition the Fight for Pink comes with an obvious little twist of Irish.
The Giro (pronounced jzee-ro) is one of three major professional ‘Grand Tours’ of world cycling which is governed by Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) based in Aigle in Switzerland.
Think World Cup football or rugby, well, this event is on a par, except it costs absolutely nothing to watch!
We have the king of all races, the Tour de France, closely followed by theGiro d’Italia then the Vuelta a España.
They are similar in format by the fact have daily stages over a three-week period with a couple of rest days thrown in.
To some in the cycling fraternity, the TdF is losing a little of it’s lustre, simply because it has lost a bit of it’s heart due to commercialism.
The Giro, on the other hand, still has the passion, the tradition, and in popularity is quickly coming up on the back while of the TdF.
The Tour de France is still the oldest, and most famous and prestigious of all three having celebrated its centenary last summer and won by Britain’s Chris Froome. The leader on the road and the eventual winner, of course, is adorned in yellow.
Originally, like the Tour de France, the idea for a Giro d’Italia came from a newspaper in an effort to boost sales.
La Gazzetta dello Sport, like the original editions of our own, but now-defunct ‘Ulster’, is printed on pink paper, and it wheeled out the first Giro 1909.
Next year will be the 97th edition, and although Italian Vicenzo Nibali will be not be defending his title, there still some of the cream of professional road cycling taking part.
What does a Grand Tour consist off, indeed how does the sport of professional cycling work?
For a start, all professional cycling teams are guaranteed a place and for 2014, there are 18 teams who made the grade in getting their UCI Pro team license.
All 18 teams will take part and the organisers RCS have granted wild card entries to four other teams from the next tier which is at UCI Pro Continental level.
Each team will have nine members and led by a team captain (for example, red-hot favourite Nairo Quintana of the Movistar team).
Team leaders chase the General Classification (GC) contender and that famous pink jersey or Maglia Rosa.
The overall winner is the rider who accumulates the least time over the three week period.
They are all-rounders, riders who can sprint reasonably well, climb mountains, Time Trial with the best.
There are 21 stages and the time it takes a rider to complete each is added together to gauge the overall GC winner.
The make-up of each team is carefully selected. There is usually an out-and-out Sprinter in each team.
They are ones with the built-in turbo-motors for thighs and have enough wattage output in that final sprint to the line to light the Christmas lights at the City Hall 24 hours a day.
They enjoy the non-mountainous stages so that they can be there to challenge in those dramatic final dashes to the line.
This can be spectacular and take your breath away at their speed and it is where carnage is only a touch of a wheel or a nudge away.
The second two stages in Ireland will feature sprint finishes.
Sprinters tussle for the points classification title with the rider who accumulates the most points getting to wear the red jersey.
Isle of Man’s Mark Cavendish won the Maglia Rossa last year helped by five stage wins, but due to sickness he says he is not fit enough to defend the jersey this year, with his nemesis Mark Kittel of Germany the man to watch.
Then we have the climbers in the team, the little jockeys with legs like strings of spaghetti who weigh in at 65k dripping wet.
They are the ones for the agonising mountainous stages with the blue jersey (equivalent to the polka dot jersey in the Tour de France) as the prize.
Points are awarded to the leading riders over designated climbs which are sorted into one of three categories based on difficulty and its position on that day’s stage.
Bonuses are given to mountain top finishes and to the first riders over the Cima Coppi, traditionally adjudged as the highest point of the entire Giro.
This year it is on the Passo de Stelvio midway along Stage 16. GC riders are usually excellent climbers, and with nine uphill climbs and five summit finishes, this is where the Maglia Rosa will be won or lost this year.
Gino Bartali, the great Italian climber, won this classification no less than seven times back in the Thirties and twice the Maglia Rosa.
There is also a young rider category in the Giro, so every team will have a rider under 25.
They clamour for the white jersey (Maglia Bianca). Colombian Carlos Betancur won it last year.
The rest of the squad is made up of domestiques.
While they mainly work and shield their team leader from wind and danger, convey drinks and food up and down the peloton (main bunch) to their team, and be general dogsbodies, they are sometimes allowed to go for glory themselves and win a stage in a breakaway as they are no danger to the overall challenge for the Maglia Rosa.
Quite often you will see riders from some of the less-clamorous teams in a breakaway from at the start of a stage, sometimes easing out a big lead.
But usually these riders are not in overall contention but their aim is to get their team advertising space on television.
Normally they are reeled in by the peleton before the end, but on the odd occasion they can win a stage.
Within a team there will be a specialist in an Individual Time Trial.
Every Grand Tour event has at least one ITT stage which features going from A to B as fast as you can.
Normally the captain of a team is well up with the very best, like a Bradley Wiggins or Germany’s power house Tony Martin or the Swiss Gladiator Fabian Cancellara.
So on yer bike big lad, or girl!