By Gregor Brown
The Giro d'Italia could not have asked for more from its trip abroad to Apeldoorn and the Dutch province of Gelderland. The Italians had plenty of sun, thousands of fans and a home star, Tom Dumoulin, in the pink jersey.
"Successo" or "success" should be one of the most heard words tomorrow when the race caravan travels to the south of Italy to restart the race on Tuesday.
The Italian grand tour first visited the Netherlands in 2002. It returned to Amsterdam in 2010, when Sir Bradley Wiggins won the opening time trial in Team Sky's colours. This year, it decided to visit Apeldoorn and the surrounding green province.
The local organiser paid €12.85 million (£10.16m) for the event and everything involved in hosting it, but judging by the fan turn out – around 235,000 lining the road from Arnhem to Nijmegen on stage two – it was worth it.
For a similar successo in cycling, one only needs to look back to another Dutch start, when the 2015 Tour de France pushed off from Utrecht.
"I love both races," Sky Principal Sir David Brailsford told Cycling Weekly. "It's more a question of the hosts, they have been fantastic on both occasions. The Dutch organisers are very organised, they get everything right, they put a big effort into the logistical side, the hotels are good, they make it easy for the teams. That all counts."
Over the last few months, Dutch cyclists and home WorldTour team LottoNL-Jumbo told stories of how the colour pink began to blanket Gelderland. The local organiser was investing its budget early, building momentum for when the Giro d'Italia visited town for three stages. This was the biggest sporting event it ever hosted after welcoming the track championships and women's volleyball European championships.
"This is the best foreign start that I've seen in my time," RCS Sport's cycling director, Mauro Vegni explained on Sunday morning ahead of the third stage start in Nijmegen.
"I've seen around five to six foreign starts, my first one was in Greece in 1996, but here it's something special. First, because Holland has a culture of cycling and then because they've done the work. They've had 1000 different events leading up to the Giro coming, pink-themed events, Italian events, Spaghetti parties in the main squares... They have the desire because they don't have a grand tour every year, and then when you work hard, this is the result."
Recent foreign starts, like the 2012 one in Herning, Denmark, were not viewed in such a kind light by many insiders. Even those starts at home in San Remo or Naples do not seem to have as many fans or such attention to details.
"Everyone has his or her vision, but the important thing is to get the race out there in the world. If you don't have the ability to push and publish an event, then event and your return suffers," Vegni said. "But if you look around in the world and find places that have the ability and the desire to have a big event, then why not say 'yes' to them?"
Team Sky talk sprint tactics
Vegni said that this morning he had breakfast with an official from a foreign country that he did not want to name. The official was ready immediately to sign a contact for the Giro's start based on what he saw in Apeldoorn. The requests, he added, come from all over the world.
Organiser RCS Sport, however, struck gold in Apeldoorn and in its countryside over the last three days. The weather has been around 25°C each day and on day one, team Giant-Alpecin's Tom Dumoulin won the opening time trial. The fans had even more reason to stand on the roadside in the warmth and even more reason to cheer with Maastricht native Dumoulin in pink.
"OK, the Tour de France's bigger for people, it's in July when people are in their holidays, but the Giro has been growing in Holland ever since its visit here in 2002," said Dimitri Bonthuis, media officer for the Giro in the Gelderland province. "Then we had Dumoulin in pink and perfect weather. We were lucky, because two weeks ago in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it snowed."
Marc Reef could not hide his enthusiasm being Dutch and the sports director for Dumoulin's team. He waved goodbye to his friends today, but he did not think that it would be for good.
"The grand tours will continue to return," Reef said. "Look at the start in Apeldoorn, last year in the Tour or even in 2010 with the Rotterdam start. People in Holland just love cycling and sports. It's a win-win situation for the organiser and country."
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