The Western Wall has seen its share of famous and distinguished visitors over
the centuries. But few of them arrive hurtling down the hill at speeds of over
60 kph, spinning on the thinnest of wheels, taking tight corners over bumpy
That’s how Alberto Contador, the threetime Tour de
France winner, zoomed past the Western Wall as he handily beat more than 100
cyclists from Israel and the Saxo Bank team in the first-ever Tour de Jerusalem
criterium race, or crit, a shortcourse race, on Tuesday night. Contador finished
the 10 laps of a 2.8 km. loop through the Old City in a staggering 53 minutes, 7
In a storybook ending, Israeli Ran Margoliot, who signed a contract with the Saxo Bank team in September, captured
second place on his home turf, finishing in 53:24. Third place also went to a
local: The Israeli champion road
rider Niv Libner in 53:28.
“Everything has been really exciting, meeting
[president Shimon] Peres
and then going to Yad Vashem, this whole race and the
fact that they’re closing the Old City for this event is amazing,” an ecstatic
Margoliot said before the race.RELATED:
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Contador and his Saxo Bank team have been in Israel for a week for a training camp, including a community
ride to bring attention to the Galilee on Saturday and laying the foundations
for a cycling school for Jews and Arabs in Acre called “Cycling for Peace: With
Love and Good Energies.”
Throughout his trip, Contador has declined to
address the doping scandal that is currently under investigation, endangering
his shot at competing in the next Tour de France.
The Tour de Jerusalem
was the team’s last group event in Israel before it continues with training
camps in other countries ahead of the Tour de France, which begins June
The Tour de Jerusalem course was a rollicking ride through history:
tight turns inside the Armenian Quarter, daunting downhills with hairpin turns,
and an insane climb from the Dung Gate up and over Mount Zion.
for the first warm-up lap, bound and determined that no matter what happened,
Contador would not quadruple- lap me. In addition to an intimate knowledge of
the ups and downs of Jerusalem’s hills I’ve gained as a bike commuter over the
past two years, I figured I had another advantage over Contador: the fact that
once I sprinted up the hill from Dung Gate to Mount Zion after inhaling multiple
lungfuls of tear gas after leaving a riot in Silwan. Pepper spray isn’t on the
International Cycling Union list of banned substances, right?
“It was a nice
experience through the Old City, it’s quite unique, really the only place like
it,” Nick Nuyens, a Saxo Bank rider from Belgium, said after finishing the race.
“Going through the city in the evening was beautiful but pretty
hard. They were short laps but all ups and downs,” he said.
steep downhills ended poorly for at least one Saxo Bank rider, who crashed on
the first lap in the precipitous decline to the Western Wall and was evacuated
from the course by Magen David Adom. The rider was not seriously injured
and later returned to the hotel.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also joined
for the warm-up lap, riding in front of the pack with Contador, pointing out
landmarks along the way.
“When I looked back and saw the peloton
behind me, I was filled with pride and excitement,” Barkat said as he watched
the riders zoom by later in the race. “Also, to see these images on the big
screen that are being broadcast around the world, that’s the best marketing for
Jerusalem that there is,” he said, gesturing to a live feed of the race that was
being broadcasted on an ancient wall.
Before the race, Barkat praised
Saxo Bank for taking the initiative to visit Israel and encouraging the city to
hastily organize its first crit race, helping to “integrate sports with the holy
city,” he said.
The race was also a celebration of Israel’s growing
cycling culture. More than 30 riders joined the first lap from the Alyn
Hospital’s Wheels of Love, an annual long-distance ride that raises money for
the rehabilitation hospital in the capital and attracts riders from around the
Fourteen-year-old Itai Alahanaty was one of the youngest Alyn
riders. Alahanaty, who spent half a year at Alyn in 2006 while recovering from a
brain tumor, couldn’t believe his luck when Saxo Bank owner Bjarne Riis signed
“This is just so fun,” the budding cyclist said as he jumped
up and down with the cheering crowd at Jaffa Gate.
And the race was also
a celebration of Jerusalem. We set off as the sun was setting, casting pink and
golden light across the walls. Sprinting over the cobblestones made my teeth
chatter but also made me laugh as I tried to imagine where else you could fit so
much history, and so many uphills, into 2.8 kilometers. And as I pumped
my pedals for all I was worth, I drank in the views of the purple sky and the
Judean Mountains rolling off into the horizon as we climbed Mount Zion. The
panorama was breathtaking – and the hill was as well.
Barkat vowed to
make the Tour de Jerusalem race a yearly event, on par with the Jerusalem
Marathon. Contador may not be back here for the next tour, but hundreds of other
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