Israel Cycling Academy riders at a high-altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada. Israel Cycling Academy riders at a high-altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada. Israel Cycling Academy riders at a high-altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada. (Photo: Noa Arnon / ICA)

One of the world's biggest cycling races to make historic start in Israel

Giro d’Italia 2018 will mark the first time a Grand Tour event has traveled beyond Europe.

When the 101st edition of the Giro d’Italia kicks off with a race through the streets of Jerusalem on May 4, it will mark the first time any of the cycling world's three grand tours – the Giro, the Tour de France or the Vuelta d’Espagna – will have taken place in Israel. Among the 22 international teams will be the up-and-coming Israel Cycling Academy, making its grand tour debut.

“We’re so honored to be among the main actors in one of the world’s biggest cycling races taking place in our hometown, in front of our home crowd,” ICA co-founder general manager Ran Margaliot told From the Grapevine.

Since 2006, the Giro has started outside Italy every other year, but it is the first time a Grand Tour has traveled beyond Europe. The Grande Partenza (Big Start) will include three stages in Israel, including a 167km sprint from Haifa to Tel Aviv and the 229km ride in the southern part of the country from the city of Be’ersheva to the resort town of Eliat on the Red Sea. The 21-day race then moves to Catania in southern Sicily on its way to the penultimate stage in Rome on May 27.

“No Israeli rider has ever competed in a Grand Tour, so for us it’s really an unbelievable dream come true. It’s our chance to step up and stand on the biggest stage in the cycling world,” said ICA rider Roy Goldstein when the Giro qualification was announced in January.

ICA was instrumental in bringing the Giro to Israel when they began negotiations with the Italian officials. The idea easily gained support from Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, an avid cycling enthusiast. “Viewers around the globe will watch some of the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our historic sites,” said Barkat.

ICA competed in the USA Pro Challenge in 2015, one of its first truly challenging tests. In the three years since, they’ve notched some 25 victories in single-day and stage races around the world, including two stages and the general classification in the 2016 Tour of Hungary and the final stage of the 2017 Tour of Colorado. Last month, rider Edwin Avila, a member of Israel's team, won stage three of the Tour de Taiwan.

Margaliot said that while the hosting three stages in Israel may have improved ICA’s chances of gaining a slot at this year's race, the Giro organizers were extremely strict about what the team would have to do to qualify.

Giro qualification is just one more step on the road toward their ultimate goal: To compete in the Tour de France. “We believe that if we can have an Israeli team with Israeli riders in the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest event, we’ll be able to tell our story in a very beautiful way,” said Margaliot.

Israel Cycling Academy was founded to create an organization that would inspire growth – of the team, the athletes and the sport in general. Competitive bicycling is one of the fastest growing activities in Israel with thousands of Israelis picking up the sport each year.

The team now includes 24 riders hailing from 16 countries including Ben Hermans, last year’s star climber and the winner of the 2017 Tour of Oman, Ruben Plaza, who won a stage 16 of the 2015 Tour de France, and sprinter Kristian Sbaragli, winner of stage 10 of the 2015 Vuelta d’Espagna.

Israeli rider Guy Sagiv, who has been with the team almost since its inception, has gone from not being able to finish the first stage of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs to battling in a 250km breakaway in the 2018 Milano-Sanremo. Two more of Israel’s most promising riders are Roy Goldstein, the current Israel National Road Champion, and Guy Niv, who switched to road racing from mountain biking last year.

“Israeli cycling has gained 100,000km worth of improvement over the last three years,” said Margaliot.

Guy Sagiv is the 2015 Israel National Road champion. Guy Sagiv is the 2015 Israel National Road champion. (Photo: Noa Arnon / ICA)

Eight riders will be selected to participate in the Giro. Krists Neilands along with Hermans and Plaza have already been confirmed for the Israeli Giro squad. The team’s top three Israeli riders – Sagiv, Niv and Goldstein – are also contenders. While the Israeli riders are particularly motivated to earn a spot, Margaliot is adamant that there will be no free gifts; each rider will have to prove their worth. The final selection is expected to be announced at the end of April.

“My personal dream is to win in our home country of Israel, but we would be very happy if it happens in any of the other stages,” said Plaza. “One thing we have already achieved through being selected for the Giro: A recognition that this team is on the path to achieving the greatest feats in the sport.”

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One of the world's biggest cycling races to make historic start in Israel
Giro d’Italia 2018 will mark the first time a Grand Tour event has traveled beyond Europe.