Great start for blue-and-white cycling at Giro d'Italia

Israel Start-Up Nation's German rider Rick Zabel earns 'King of the Mountains' after opening stage of Grand Tour

Rick Zabel takes home the maglia azzurra during the first stage of the 2020 Giro d'Italia (photo credit: BETTINI PHOTO)
Rick Zabel takes home the maglia azzurra during the first stage of the 2020 Giro d'Italia
(photo credit: BETTINI PHOTO)
The Israeli professional cycling team Israel Start-Up Nation lined up on the marks of the 2020 Giro d'Italia on Saturday – one of the three annual Grand Tour races, alongside the Vuelta de Espana and the Tour de France.

It was the first time the Israeli squad participated in the Italian Grand Tour race since becoming a world tour-class team in 2019.
In Saturday's opening stage, Israel Start-Up Nation's German rider Rick Zabel secured the maglia azzurra (blue jersey), which is awarded to the rider leading the mountain classification in the Giro d'Italia.
Points in this classification are usually awarded to riders who are first over the top of a climb, with each climb categorized based on difficulty throughout each stage of the race and points being accumulated as the stages progress. The winner is awarded a blue jersey, and wears it as long as they lead that classification.
Zabel decided alongside his teammates at dinner the night before the race that he would break off from the rest of the team and go all-out on the climb to earn himself the coveted jersey.
"This short climb suited me perfectly as it was around a 90-second effort, and if there was a potential jersey at the top, why wouldn’t I try?" Zabel said.
"I knew I could do this. I am super happy with the result," he added. "Tomorrow I will start in the blue climber’s jersey – as a sprinter. How cool is that?"
The ISN made its first appearance in the Giro d'Italia in 2018 as a pro-continental team. The first couple of stages of the 2018 race were held in Israel, beginning in Jerusalem and cycling through the historic scenery of Israel.
"The Giro gave our team its first opportunity to race in a Grand Tour, which was rendered memorable as it started on home soil, in Jerusalem," said ISN team co-owner Sylvan Adams. "It’s nice to be returning to the Giro for the third time, to see our old friends."
The 2020 ISN roster consists of Zabel, Israeli rider Guy Sagiv, Austrian Matthias Brändle, Englishman Alex Dowsett, Italian Davide Cimolai, Frenchman Rudy Barbier and Canadian Alexander Cataford.
Sagiv recalled riding in the 2018 event, noting the importance it held for him at the time and what's changed since then, considering the team is now in the world-tour class.
"That was simply incredible, and so much has changed since. This time I am here not only to survive, but to race," said Sagiv. "I am ready to represent my country in what is a special race for the team, for Israel and for myself. I believe we have a great lead-out train for our sprinters – and a historic result is up for grabs."
ISN’s goal this year is to go for stage wins as a team instead of attempting to thrust a rider into the coveted maglia rosa (pink jersey) day in and day out, as it is still a developing team working on securing top talent to be able to perform such a feat in future tours.
"That’s the main goal," said ISN sports director Nicki Sörensen. "And Barbier and Cimolai are our two main riders who can achieve it. Navarro will be our force in the mountains. Next to the flat stages, there are a few days which are particularly interesting for us to get into the breakaway of the stage. I expect aggressive racing in the mountains this Giro."
Overall, Italian Filippo Ganna won the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia on Saturday, a 15.1-km individual time trial between Monreale and Palermo, to claim the first maglia rosa leader's jersey of this year's race.
The Ineos-Grenadiers rider, who claimed the time trial title at the world championships last week, clocked 15 minutes 24 seconds to beat Portugal's Joao Almeida by a massive 22 seconds.
"Today I knew I was one of the hot favorites but I tried to stay calm," said Ganna. "We did it. What a great result and what a thrill to wear the maglia rosa on my first Giro, which is a good omen for the rest of the race."  
Reuters contributed to this report.