There have been murmurings that Budapest doesn’t feel like a city where the Grande Partenza of the Giro d’Italia is taking place.
In fact, while the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Heroes’ Square is adorned with a large stage, the publicity tents and fans of a Grand Tour start, the rest of the city is simply alive. And life goes on, as we’ve found out in recent years, whether there’s a bike race on or not.
Sure, a busker with a violin is playing Bella Ciao as coins are tossed into his instrument case, and a sports shop has each of the styrofoam models in his shop window wearing each of the leader’s jerseys, but down every street there is regular life taking place. Ornate grand buildings stand next to others that have fallen into disrepair. Older folk hold hands and perform traditional dances in cafés after they close for the day while a younger generation pours in and out of modern coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are ready-made to be posted on Instagram.
But come midday on Friday, 20 minutes before the race starts, the crowd is humming, and soon, along the roadside, Hungarians will come out to witness a Grand Tour pass by.
One young man who calls Budapest home is Attila Valter. For the past three days, in the build-up to stage 1, the attention has been focused on him.
A local guy who wore the pink jersey last year now has the Giro on his doorstep. In his pre-race press conference, he promised to try his best on stage 1, to attempt to deliver an almost impossible victory for home fans when faced with the task of besting the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Biniam Girmay and Caleb Ewan.
“I was behind the crash,” Valter told CyclingTips at the finish of how his finale went. “I was held up, I wasted a lot of energy to come back.”
The 23-year-old Hungarian eventually finished 29th, four seconds off the pace as the top eight broke away near the top of the climb, and after Caleb Ewan’s fall, to contest the stage.
But before that, for 195km, Valter rode a Grand Tour along his home roads, passing his neighbours and fellow countrymen.
“It was really incredible,” he said when asked about the roadside fans.
“If each of them had given me €1 I could buy the castle next to the start.”
Attila Valter may never have enough money to purchase Buda Castle, but he will always be the boy from Csömör, a 20-minute drive from the capital, who played a major part in the Giro coming to his home.