Revolutionary race invention celebrated by cartoonist

Suzanne McGonagle

IRISH News cartoonist Ian Knox got into the Giro d'Italia spirit yesterday as he celebrated a Belfast invention that revolutionised cycling.

With less than a week to go before one of the world's biggest bike races arrives in Ireland, a moment of inspiration 125 years ago is also being remembered.

The final touches are now being put in place to plans for the north to embrace two wheels like never before.

The 'Grande Partenza' or 'Big Start' of the Giro d'Italia takes place from May 9 to 11 with routes in Belfast and Armagh before moving across the border to Dublin.

Around 140,000 spectators are expected to line roads across the north, with an estimated television audience of 775 million people in 174 countries.

Almost 200 riders are competing in professional cycling's most prestigious stage race after the Tour de France.

The opening ceremony on Thursday will feature the first public appearances of the competitors, followed by a time trial around Belfast on Friday before riders depart for a scenic loop including the north Coast and Antrim Glens.

On May 11, the action shifts to Armagh and competitors will race through a land of apple orchards and steep hills before cycling to Dublin.

But as they race along hundreds of kilometres of Irish roads, the Giro d'Italia cyclists will be unaware of the significant role the country played in the sport as it's known today.

In south Belfast yesterday, Ian Knox unveiled an artwork he has designed, left, to mark 125 years since Irish cyclist Willie Hume won a race with the world's first pneumatic tyre.

Scottish vet John Boyd Dunlop made the invention while living in Belfast in 1888 after a doctor had recommended cycling for his ill son.

He wanted to find a way to minimise the jarring of the city's cobbled streets and so tacked linen to the wheels of a tri-cycle, which in turn held an inflated tube in place against the wheel.

The artwork by Mr Knox, himself a keen cyclist and penny farthing enthusiast, hangs on the side of Hatfield House on the Ormeau Road, where the race passed on May 18 1889.

Kieran Cassidy, owner of the bar, said: "With this fantastic event coming here we wanted to remind people of Northern Ireland's contribution to cycling through a comic and fun piece of art.

"We hope that the artwork will not only welcome cyclists but also remind... visitors to the city that the first pneumatic tyre was invented in Belfast."

* 'BIG START': Going pink for the Giro yesterday on the Antrim Road in north Belfast

PICTURE: Hugh Russell

* SPOKES-MAN: Ian Knox gets into the Giro spirit yesterday

PICTURE: Hugh Russell

? Giro schools competition winners? P25


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