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

Pink Sheep.jpg

Credit: REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

A sheep with dyed pink wool grazes in a field near the village of Balintoy. It's been painted pink to welcome the arrival of the Giro d'Italia cycle race whose race leader wears a pink jersey.

What's pink and woolly, goes "baa", and is transfixed by 400 wheels? A sheep.

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A sheep watching the Giro d'Italia, Italy's premier cycling event.

The Giro d'Italia is one of the world's biggest races after the Tour de France. It gets underway Friday. 198 riders will cover nearly 1,990 miles over 21 stages for the next three weeks.

They'll cross the finish line in the Italian port city of Trieste.

But here's a Geo Quiz for you: Where does the race begin?

Malachi O'Doherty, author of "On My Own Two Wheels," will be be among the thousands of spectators out watching the Giro d'Italia this weekend.

He says the race will start at the waterfront area known as the Titanic Quarter, in Belfast, Northern Ireland - the answer to the Geo Quiz.

Congratulations to Geo Text Games winners: Tim in Ballard, WA; Arriane in George School, PA; and Kelly Duncan in Venice, FL.

The Titanic Quarter commemorates the history of the RMS Titanic (she was built there in a Belfast shipyard in 1912).

As for those pink sheep that are showing up in Northern Ireland's pastures, O'Doherty says everyone has "gone crazy" about the Giro d'Italia. The race is distinguished by its pink jersey which is given to the winner.

"So we are dyeing our sheep pink, and our horses pink, and we are all wearing pink shirts, pink trousers, and I'm sure even some people are wearing pink underwear," O'Doherty says. Even the mayor of Belfast is getting in on the fad by dyeing his hair pink.

There's another Giro d'Italia tradition. Every other year, the race starts outside Italy, though this is the first time that the Grande Partenza, or the "Big Start" is taking place outside of mainland Europe, with Belfast in the spotlight.

The Giro begins with a time trial on Friday. On day two, Belfast will be the start and finish point for a 135-mile loop around the Emerald Island.

O'Doherty says Northern Island is hoping that by hosting the race, it will show off its image as a "bustling, 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 they'll say I'd like to go there for my holiday," he says. "Part of the problem, of course, is that it will probably be raining. We're right on the Atlantic here and we're the first stop for most Atlantic storms."

O'Doherty says the riders and spectators along the route will have "incredible views of the countryside and across the  North Atlantic all the way to Scotland." But he adds, "if it's raining they will see nothing but mist."

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