As Northern Ireland turns itself pink ahead of the Big Start of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in Belfast a fortnight today, thousands of people hopeful of securing tickets online for the team presentation yesterday were disappointed due to computer issues, while many of those who decided to obtain them in person had to queue for several hours.
Unlike tickets for the Tour de France team presentation in Leeds in July, which cost between £45 and £85, leading to prices being branded as “outrageous,” those for the Giro presentation in the grounds of Belfast City Hall on Thursday 8 May were free. Within five hours or so of being made available at 9am, all had gone.
There was a limit of two tickets per person, with 4,000 available online and 1,500 at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, where people started queuing from 4.45am. The online system froze for some people, however, meaning they lost their place in the queue.
One, Kathryn Johnston, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I joined the queue before 9am and I was online four hours with no luck.
"The system was absolutely terrible. The website just kept resetting and sending me to the back of the queue.
"I'm really disgusted by how poorly this has been organised. If they can't manage to organise a ticket system, what hope do we have for the actual event?"
Another disappointed fan was hospital porter Bill Corr who had taken a day’s leave to make sure he got a ticket. After having no luck online, he went to the Welcome Centre only to be disappointed there too.
"I am incredibly frustrated,” he said.
“I spent all morning on their website, but that was a complete waste of time. I then came down here to try and get a ticket in person only to be told they have tickets, but they are allocated for online sales only. It's pathetic.
“They knew how much interest there would be from the number of people who pre-registered and they still weren't ready."
Visit Belfast’s chief executive, Garry Lennon, said that the computer system had been “slower than expected,” adding that demand had exceeded expectations.
"There are going to be 5,000 - 6,000 very happy people with the golden tickets in their hands and will experience the opening ceremony on 8 May – we're delighted about that," he said.
"Unfortunately there are more people wanting to go to the ceremony than we have tickets for and it's as simple as that.
"But you will be able to see the finest cyclists in the world, cycling around our city on the Friday and Saturday and that is something that is so positive for Belfast."
The race begins on Friday 9 May with a team time trial in Belfast, followed by a road stage starting and ending in the city that takes the riders out onto the County Antrim coast. Sunday 11 May sees a stage from Armagh to Dublin, before the race heads back to Italy where it resumes two days later.
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland has been turning pink as communities along the route vi with each other to celebrate the race, with residents and businesses encouraged to adopt the colour in honour of the race and its iconic maglia rosa.
Even a sculpture of a fisherman on the Antrim Coast Road has been subject to the treatment, as the above picture posted to our Facebook page by Alex Hawker shows.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, enthusiasm for the Giro has spread to other sports too. On Saturday 10 May, Armagh Cricket Club will play a match wearing pink kit to mark the stage start there the following day, having secured permission to change colour for the day from the Northern Cricket Union.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.