Israel’s pro-cycling team meets start-ups to enhance performance

The team is heading to the 2020 Tour de France, which will be the first time an Israeli squad is sent to cycling’s largest stage.

 Israel Team Start-Up Nation racing in the 2020 Men's Tour Down Under, a road cycling stage race that took place between 21 and 26 January in and around Adelaide, South Australia. (photo credit: BETTINI PHOTO)
Israel Team Start-Up Nation racing in the 2020 Men's Tour Down Under, a road cycling stage race that took place between 21 and 26 January in and around Adelaide, South Australia.
(photo credit: BETTINI PHOTO)
Israel’s first professional cycling team on the sport’s WorldTour scene, Israel Start-Up Nation, met earlier this month with eight local start-ups aiming to launch product innovation projects that could help the team achieve better race results in the Tour de France and other races.
The team is heading to the 2020 Tour de France, which will be the first time an Israeli squad is sent to cycling’s largest stage.
The new entrants on cycling’s WorldTour hope to launch performance enhancing tech proof-of-concept trials with the handpicked start-ups, while also propelling the start-ups’ products into global sports, nutrition, health and wellness markets.
According to a statement from Tel Aviv-based nonprofit Start-Up Nation Central, the start-ups were brought to the engagement as a group by Start-Up Nation Central, which sorted through a list of over 6,500 currently active Israeli start-ups to find the eight most relevant solutions tailored to the cycling team’s needs.
While professional cycling has been hi-tech for years, “and most professional teams make good use of innovation, Israel’s cycling squad is the only one that has an entire ecosystem of start-ups vying to use it as a mobile proof-of-concept platform,” the organization said.
Talia Shekel, strategic partnerships manager in Start-Up Nation Central, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the start-ups were handpicked “after conducting research and some meetings with the team in which we identified and defined the team’s most pressing challenges and pain points.” Start-Up Nation Central then “curated a long list of potential companies from different fields for the team.
“We asked Team Israel Start-Up Nation performance director Paulo Saldanha... to prioritize them, and we invited the start-ups accordingly, meaning that we tried to narrow down the companies as efficiently as possible,” Shekel said.
They looked at start-ups active in the main fields of interest of the team such as health, nutrition and AI, “that are interested in collaborating with the squad and see this as an amazing opportunity.
“We focused more on mature companies with a market-ready or almost market-ready product, that can be implemented ad hoc, rather than companies that are still in the research and development stage,” Shekel said, adding that they also looked at “companies that can offer the team some sort of marginal advantage.”
The kinds of technologies on offer included solutions for better race preparation, real-time and remote physiology monitoring, training load, injury forecasting, sleep quality, nutritional balance, performance monitoring and maximization and even cyclists’ emotional state on grueling races. The squad will be working with some of the start-ups on pilot projects over the next three years, while more start-ups may be added to the mobile innovation platform ad hoc.
Shekel said the idea was inspired when they joined the team while they were in action.
“We joined one of their practices in the Jerusalem area to see firsthand how this complex sport works,” she explained. “It’s very unique and not similar to any other sport. We wanted to see how they cycle, what can be monitored, how they communicate, what they wear, what they eat, what protects them, what can help them go faster.”
According to Shekel, as part of a long term collaboration with the squad, “we created a tailor-made delegation for them, as we do for multinational corporations from all over the world in different industries.” She added that every year Start-Up Nation Central hosts 60-80 delegations of this kind.
Shekel stressed that it seems “only natural that Israeli technology should back the team and assist it in any way possible.”
Asked about why it’s so important for the cyclists and start-ups to work together, the Israel Start-Up Nation team said pro-cycling might very well be the hardest and most demanding sport out there.
“Very few other sports ask so much from their athletes in terms of physical and mental demands,” the team said. “You go deep for six hours a day when your body and mind are under huge stress.”
They said the cycle teams pro staff also explained the rationale behind the importance of cooperation between the team and the start-ups.
“In this kind of environment, the differences between the athletes are minimal, but it can still make all the difference in the world in terms of victory and defeat,” they said. “In this world of ultra-competitive pro-cycling, it’s no wonder that the teams are in constant search for every advantage in riders training preparation and fulfilling their potential.”
The team made it clear that they are “in the front of this race to perfection,” and want to see this unique opportunity for innovation implemented so that it can make a difference in their abilities.
“The ability, for example, to monitor the riders’ data during training and races, is extremely beneficial to help make decisions about their state at crucial moments,” the team stressed.
The team made it clear that the riders are very much into this “in terms of adopting high levels of training quality together with tools and innovation that will make them better.
“The team performance directors will be implementing the start-ups innovation when we determine [which of] those [start-ups] that can benefit us.”
Team Israel Start-Up Nation’s co-owner, philanthropist Sylvan Adams, said he was happy with the results of the first encounter that took place between his team and the eight Israeli start-ups.
“Israel has the largest number of start-ups per capita of any country in the world, so it is entirely fitting that our principal sponsor is Start-Up Nation Central,” Adams said. “This will give our Israel Start-Up Nation team access to cutting-edge technologies, a secret weapon of sorts, as we embark on our first season in the WorldTour, and that’s just the beginning of this exciting collaboration.”

Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.