Israeli cycling pedals forward with Tour de France team

Monumental accomplishment for five-year-old squad to participate in world's most prestigious race.

Israel Start-Up Nation team uniform (photo credit: START-UP NATION)
Israel Start-Up Nation team uniform
(photo credit: START-UP NATION)
The Israel Cycling Academy presented their rider line-up for the 2020 Tour de France this week – featuring world-class veteran talents such as German Andre Greipel (157 individual wins), Irishman Dan Martin (a top-10 finisher in the 2018 Tour), as well as Israel’s two most talented up-and-coming riders in Guy Sagiv and Guy Niv.
The team owned by Canadian-Israeli philanthropist Sylvan Adams and Israeli businessman Ron Baron will be sending the first-ever Israeli squad to cycling’s largest stage and announced that the team will be riding under the name Israeli Start-Up Nation. Holding a minority interest in the squad is Canadian Kevin Lam, whose company will be one of the team’s largest sponsors for the upcoming Tour.
“We will have our Israel name at the Tour de France, being seen by 2.6 billion people – with our blue-and-white colors,” said Adams at the launch event. “The dream of competing in the Tour de France, almost unthinkable only five years ago when we launched the team, is now coming true. A professional team with world-class Israeli riders alongside the finest international talents, racing with pride in one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.”
The new team name follows the recent partnership solidified between the ICA and Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), a Tel Aviv-based non-profit organization that connects companies around the world to Israeli innovation. The ICA believes that the partnership with SNC will assist the team in getting the most of out of cutting-edge Israeli technologies and has high hopes that it will give the Israeli team a competitive advantage to compete against the top talents in the world during the 2020 Tour de France.
In addition the partnership intends to expedite research and development initiatives focused towards cycling innovations and display these new modern methods on the world stage - as well as broaden the "reach of relevant innovations arising from this collaboration, specifically in health, wellness, fitness, sleep improvement, physical rehabilitation, mental conditioning, nutrition, water management, Augmented Reality, new materials, and safety technologies, beyond the sporting world."
“Our goal is to get Israel’s powerful tech ecosystem behind the cycling team, as it becomes a formidable competitor, and leverage the knowledge gained from testing these technologies on the Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team to benefit other athletic teams,” said Prof. Eugene Kandel, CEO, Start-Up Nation Central. "This is a potential force multiplier that the Israel Cycling Academy can tap into.”
The ICA itself, has made its way through the general classifications of cycling teams in just five years’ time – from continental, to pro-continental in 2017, to a world tour class team in 2019 – which earned it the ability to ride in the 2020 Tour de France.
“Five years ago I saw this Israeli team literally appear out of nowhere,” said Martin to The Jerusalem Post. “I kind of followed the team’s progress. It’s safe to say that this time last year it was never in mind that I would be standing here now... As the talks between [the ICA and I] progressed, I felt more and more welcome and decided that this is what I wanted out of a cycling team.”
Israel Start-Up Nation’s roster consists of 30 riders, from 16 different nationalities, hailing from five continents, possessing multiple and sometimes contrasting religious views – which in itself presents a scene of coexistence on one of the world’s largest stages.
In order to prepare for stiff competition of the 2020 Tour de France, the ICA secured some of the world's top cycling talents to help guide the young team to success, including world-class veteran talents in Greipel and Martin.
"The decision for myself was to cancel my contract with my old team and to go for a new challenge. That's how it started," German rider Greipel told the Post, adding that it was an easy decision for him to make. "This is the fastest growing sport in Israel, you can even see, when we had breakfast this morning, you notice how many sports fans were waiting outside and that’s for a reason because cycling is getting more and more popular here. Especially with what the [ICA] is doing, bringing cycling to different schools around the country, it's really approaching and it's nice to be a part of it."
Irish rider Martin added to the conversation that "the place is just completely amazing, and it makes me proud of what this team has done for [Israel]. The diversity of the team is representative of this country and also innovation and the progressiveness is important in cycling and that's what attracted me to the team - that's why I wanted to join this team, to have the best equipment and the best new ideas, and I know I’ll be surrounded by that while I'm in Israel."
In addition to the partnership with SNC, the ICA has also partnered up with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which dubbed the diverse team of riders “Peace Ambassadors” in 2018 – and the ICA riders will display Peres Center logo on their brand new uniforms to help disseminate a message of peace and coexistence to the world when the riders take their marks at the 2020 Tour de France.
“Shimon Peres always said that to strive for peace and innovation, one always needs to look forward, with eyes on the target and not stop for a moment,” said Director of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation Efrat Duvdevani. “This is exactly what these cyclists do, with their eyes fixed on the goal ahead, while their legs never stop peddling.”
The riders themselves, many of them enjoying their first visit to Israel, will be staying in the country for the next two weeks to gain a feel of the environment in the hopes that when they return to their home countries they can explain the daily situation in Israel a bit better and justify their decision to ride for the ICA in the first place.
"It's a big honor being a peace ambassador, of course we cannot change the history. I was thinking about it to be honest, how we are really welcome here, especially with my nationality (German). But in the end, it's an honor to receive a jersey like that and great honor to ride for the ICA," Greipel explained to the Post.
Martin added, "this cycling team has a very similar feelings for [Israel] as a whole. I've only been in Israel four days, Saturday night we arrived I have been completely amazed by the country, Tel Aviv and the progressive nature of innovation here, it's all got a sort of international feel. One day after I arrived here on Sunday, I messaged my wife and said we need to come here, I can't believe we've never been here.
“It's a completely different feeling then to what we read in the media at home. It's wrong, there's obviously a lot of political things going on here and we don't really want to get on the political side of things because this is a sport as well as an adventure, but it's not representative of the real feeling."
By championing a team of riders from multiple countries, religions, creeds and nationalities - the ICA and more importantly the riders inadvertently are “peace ambassadors” regardless of the title, and every rider on the team when being brought into the program comes in knowing they are meant to be a voice of change.
“The reason we bring them here for the presentation and the training camp, is because they have to learn the country," said Adams. "By seeing [the country] with their own eyes, they will be able to defended themselves when intrepid reporters that put a microphone in their face and say, 'how could you be riding for that country,' then they can say ‘woah, woah, woah - have you ever been to Israel… No?’ Then they can just debunk the kind of aggressive questioning that they might receive, and really, they have to feel it."
“If you don’t embrace [Israel], you can’t be a rider on this team," noted Adams. "This is part of the discussions we have with each and every one of them. As I’ve always said, I’m the self-appointed ambassador for Israel. Therefore, I’m just doing my job.”