Why they're dyeing local sheep pink as the Giro d'Italia gets underway

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: What is pink and woolly, goes "baa", and is transfixed by 400 wheels? A sheep. A sheep watching the Giro d'Italia, Italy's premier cycling event. We'll explain about the sheep in a moment. the Giro d'Italia is one of the world's biggest races after the Tour de France and it gets underway tomorrow. Nearly 200 riders will cover nearly 2,000 miles, cycling like mad everyday for the next 3 weeks. But here's a Geo Quiz for you, taking us back to that sheep: where does the race begin, the starting line? Malachi O'Doherty is a writer and loves cycling. Tell us where the race is starting, Malachi, and what's up with that sheep?

Malachi O'Doherty: The race is starting in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It's starting at what we call the Titanic Quarter, which was built to commemorate the sinking of the ship, the Titanic, in 1912. We have a lot of pink sheep here, you might not have known this before. In Northern Ireland, we have a lot of pasture land and we have all gone crazy about the Giro d'Italia, which is distinguished by the pink jersey given to the winner. We are dyeing our sheep pink and we're all wearing pink shirts, pink trousers and I'm sure some people are even wearing pink underwear.

Werman: Pink everywhere. We've still got this question: why is it starting in Belfast?

O'Doherty: It's a thing that they do, they have previously started from Denmark. I think certainly from the point of view of the Northern Irish, it's about promoting tourism. We are putting money into this. For instance, areas which are a little derelict with shop fronts, looking pale and empty, are being spruced up. Even empty buildings are being painted. All to create the impression of Northern Ireland as a bustling and busy and thriving economy with a vibrant culture. We hope that 800 million people will see the backdrop of Northern Ireland when they're watching the race and say "Hey, I'd like to go there for my holiday." Part of the problem is of course it'll be raining. We're right on the Atlantic, we're the first stop for most Atlantic storms.

Werman: Belfast is going to be a time trial race and a loop stage around Northern Ireland. Where does the race go after Belfast?

O'Doherty: After Belfast, it goes to Armagh on Sunday and then to Dublin and that crosses the border into the Irish Republic. I think the hardest stretch of all will be the one inside Northern Ireland on Saturday, which takes us up through the Antrim coastal area, the glens of Antrim. Beautiful, beautiful coastal scenery. If it's a clear day, they'll be able to see right across to Scotland. Big hills, steep hills, incredible views of the North Atlantic.

Werman: Then finally next week the Giro d'Italia will actually go back to Italy.

O'Doherty: It will actually go to Italy and nobody here will be paying the slightest bit of attention to it. This is a sport fixture but this is not being appreciated as a sport fixture in Northern Ireland. If you stop people in the street and say "Who do you reckon is going to win the race?" they won't even know the names of the participants. It's an odd thing this.

Werman: But you like cycling, so as a fan, are you going to follow the peloton to Italy?

O'Doherty: No, I'm not going to follow the peloton to Italy. I will go and I will stand on the coastal road in Northern Ireland and I will hope that the rain stays off and I will just watch them go woosh past me and I will have made my contribution to the whole event. But if it's raining, they will feel nothing but mist.

Werman: Writer Malachi O'Doherty who lives in Belfast where the Giro d'Italia kicks off tomorrow. Malachi, thank you.

O'Doherty: Thank you, all the very best.

Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.