Open nature of event adds to excitement

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Grey skies over Belfast were doing their best to dim the bright pink of the Giro d’Italia’s Grande Partenza, but a wide-open field promises to light up the roads when the race gets under way tonight.

Little of this 21-stage, 
3,450-km race will be decided in the first three days between Belfast and Dublin, but, with no obvious favourite in the pack, everyone will be looking for some kind of sign as to who has the form.

Of the three Irishmen to take the start, two can consider themselves contenders, even if Tinkoff-Saxo rider Nicholas Roche – the son of 1987 Giro winner Stephen – seems reluctant to put himself in that bracket, insisting his only target is a top-10 finish.

“I don’t think I can win it,” he said.

His cousin Dan Martin, who will lead the Garmin-Sharp squad alongside 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal, has made no secret of his ambitions.

“It’s all about this race. I am not thinking beyond June 1. I am here to lead the team. Whether that means stages or GC, we don’t know yet,” said Martin.

Italy’s Rossella Ratto won stage two of the Friends Life Women’s Tour to seize the overall lead in torrential rain in Bedford.

Yorkshire’s Olympic silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) was seventh – 14 seconds off Ratto – and stage one winner Emma Johansson was 11th.