(photo credit: Yossi Sharm)
Considering that Tour de France winner Alberto Contador is in Israel this week
to establish a cycling school for children in the Upper Galilee in conjunction
with the Peres Peace Center, it was only natural that President Shimon Peres
would want to meet him.
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The group of 30 black-clad cyclists led by
Contador congregated just inside the entrance of the compound surrounding the
President’s Residence on Tuesday.
When Peres came out to greet them, the
Spanish Contador stepped forward and presented him with a team jersey bearing
the signatures of all the members of the team. It was a great honor for the team
to meet him, said Contador in halting English, adding, “We love Israel!” Bjarne
Riis, the 1996 Tour de France winner from Denmark, who speaks English fluently,
said it had been a fantastic journey so far, and after Jerusalem, the team was
continuing to the Dead Sea and Tel Aviv.
“For us, this is a great event
because you are carrying a message of peace,” said Peres.
Peres was also
happy to note that Israeli cyclist 23-year-old Ran Margaliot was riding with the
team for the first time.
Peres presented Contador with a sculptured
profile of Jerusalem and began to sing “Happy birthday.” The cyclist’s face
broke into a delighted but half-embarrassed grin as everyone else joined in.
December 6 was his 29th birthday.
Peres then moved forward to chat with
the cyclists, asking where they came from. One was from Australia, another from
Japan, but most of the others were from Europe.
Asked whether he was
familiar with the Tour de France, Peres said he had once attended the
presentation of the cup and it was a very exciting experience.
In one of
his previous capacities, Peres had said every worker should own a car. When a
journalist asked him whether he now believes that every worker should own a
bike, Peres responded: “Every worker should own a bike and a car.” Cycling is a
very healthy and aesthetic sport, he said, and more people should take it
Peres said his father had bought him a brand new bike for his bar
mitzva and he loved riding it around Tel Aviv.
He abandoned the bike when
he was sent to the Ben-Shemen Agriculture School, and his next two-wheel mode of
transportation was a motorbike.