Israel enters the world of pro cycling

Multi-national team from Eastern Europe – featuring five Israelis – will begin international competition in January

Peter Sagan leading Israel’s first pro cycling team  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Peter Sagan leading Israel’s first pro cycling team
To kick-start the nation’s first foray into professional cycling, Slovakian Tour de France star Peter Sagan joined Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat Wednesday to announce the formation of a group of 12 young men from four countries, including Israel, who will race together in international competitions and train aspiring young Israeli cyclists.
The team, called Cycling Academy by Peter Sagan, includes five Israelis, four professional Polish racers, two Slovakians (including Sagan), and one professional cyclist from the Czech Republic, between the ages of 19 and 25.
It will enter its first international competition in January in Argentina, the mayor said.
After Barkat cycled with the team on a rainy Wednesday morning throughout historic sites in Jerusalem, the group held a press conference at the Mamilla Hotel, followed by an exhibition race around the Old City.
According to Barkat, the founding of the team is part of a social and sports initiative to include countries without cycling cultures, with the goal of one day participating in the sport’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France.
The team will also work with young Israelis to teach them cycling fundamentals, the mayor said.
“I’m a big believer in sports, and as a sportsman myself, I understand that sports is not an expense, it’s an investment,” Barkat said. “Most importantly, I have seen that kids who are brought up in sports cultures have improved education, quality of life, team work and development potential, and that is why, as mayor, I am aggressively pursuing excellence in sports.”
Noting that Jerusalem recently built the largest sports complex in the country, and is undergoing a sports renaissance, embodied by the annual Jerusalem Marathon and Formula 1 Road Show, Barkat said the cycling team is an expansion of the country’s sporting infrastructure.
“Seeing world champions riding with the Old City in the background is a sight that I personally will take with me and never forget,” he said.
Noting that Sagan comes from a country that does not invest in cycling, Barkat said that as the leader of the team, and someone who has garnered international acclaim, he will inspire youth throughout the nation.
“For us Israelis to see you excel is an inspiration, and it’s a big honor for us that you are here,” he said, as Sagan sat at a nearby dais.
The mayor continued: “You will see that Jerusalem – and this is imperative for us – maintains freedom for all religions, where Muslims manage the Muslim sites, Christians manage the Christian sites, and the Jews the Jewish sites. And we will maintain that openness for people throughout the year to enjoy the city of Jerusalem.”
Ron Bar-On, an Israeli cyclist who initiated the project, said the goal of the team is to “give Israeli cyclists the chance to one day become the next Peter Sagan.”
“Peter comes from a small country of 5 million people who normally would not have the chance to become top professionals like guys from Italy or Germany or France,” said Bar- On. “But he made it, and I think that he will be an inspiration for young cyclists from Israel.”
“Maybe a cyclist from Eastern Europe or Israel can one day become a Tour de France cyclist like Peter Sagan,” he continued.
In a brief statement, Sagan said it was his first visit to Jerusalem and that he was honored to be selected to be the team’s leader.
“I’m very happy for this project and I thank everybody for this idea, and working on this [initiative], and choosing me for this,” he said. “I want to see the growth of a lot of young guys and think this a very great opportunity... to work with riders in a country where cycling is not very popular.”
Bar-On said the team is officially registered with UCI, cycling’s international governing body, and will compete 90 days of the year throughout the world, with the hope that within two years it will qualify for the Tour de France.
“A few years from now the team will race at the world’s highest levels,” he said.