Members of professional cycling team Israel Start-Up Nation, which is now ranked in the global top-10, will arrive in Israel on Friday after a two-year “exile” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The cyclists will celebrate their return to Israel with a busy week-long bonding camp around the country, which will include a reception with the president, rides around Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as well as social opportunities to meet fans and the next generation of young Israeli riders.
The team, which will land in Israel with its full roster of riders, is one of the highest-ranked in the WorldTour and recently finished a successful season with 17 victories, including wins in some of the biggest and most famous races in the world. These accomplishments landed the team ninth in the world rankings, the first time in the team’s history it is ranked in the top 10.
A special reception will be held at the residence of Israeli President Isaac Herzog in the presence of team owners Sylvan Adams and Ron Baron on Sunday at noon. This will be the first opportunity for the team to present its roster, which includes a number of well-known riders who have joined the squad for the next season. The riders, led by Christopher Froome, will be available for media interviews during the event.
“I am very much looking forward to finally being able to visit Israel. Throughout this year, I have really felt the heart-warming support from the Israeli fans and I can’t wait to meet them in person and thank them for all their support,” Froome said ahead of the visit.
The shadow of the coronavirus has loomed large over the team, which was forced to cancel its training camp in Israel last season and has competed in hundreds of races under the strict “bubble” guidelines which were imposed on the entire industry. But it is highly symbolic that this first sign of “returning to normal” is coming from Israel.
“The format and timing of this camp have changed this year. It is being held a month earlier than in previous years and will be more of a bonding and tourism camp, with only a couple of days of riding, including a day with our Israeli fans,” said Adams.
“We wanted to have our team really experience the country, and we found that a December camp placed a lot of stress on our riders to get in a sufficient amount of riding in preparation for the following season.
“This will be a more relaxed camp and will permit the team to experience some of the marvels of Israel. I am sure this approach will be well-received, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the old gang and meeting the newest members of our team while acting as a bit of a tour guide.”
The country, which is now opening its gates to foreign tourism, has allowed the fully vaccinated team, riders and staff, to come to the Holy Land for a visit, which for many of them will be the first opportunity to get to know the country up close and personal. This is why, unlike during previous visits, the team will not focus on training, but rather on meetings and special tours around the country.
“We consider ourselves ambassadors of beautiful Israel in each of our hundreds of races around the world,” said Adams. “Therefore, it is very important to me that our international riders can experience for themselves some of the wonderful places in our country.”
ISN Sports Manager Rik Verbrugghe stated the value of structuring the camp to emphasize team bonding by saying, “It will have everyone committed 100 percent.”
Many of the visits and informal meetings with Israelis will take place, as expected for a professional bicycle team, on two wheels.
On Saturday, the team will ride from Jerusalem to the summit of Ness Harim in the Judean hills, the largest meet-up destination for cyclists in Israel, to host a 10 a.m. coffee stop at Bar Bahar and to meet face to face with the team’s fans. During the visit, the international and Israeli stars will also meet with young riders to talk about cycling and racing and even visit schools in the north. Additionally, the team will be presented at the Expo a day before the Nov 12 Ironman competition boasting over 2,000 competitors.
“It is very important to all of us that young Israeli riders know that they can go as far as possible with talent and hard work,” said one of the team’s Israeli riders, Guy Niv, who fulfilled this dream himself when he became the first Israeli to finish the Tour de France with Israel Start-Up Nation in the 2020 season.
Niv, a resident of Atzmon, will lead the team on a ride in the Golan Heights alongside his Israeli teammates, who have made impressive progress this past year. Itamar Einhorn, the Israeli who achieved a historic first this year in the professional peloton when he defeated former world champion Peter Sagan in his home race in Slovakia said: “I’m always excited to show our riders what the country has to offer.”
The team is an important ambassador of tourism in Israel and as part of the sponsorship agreement with the Ministry of Tourism, the symbols of the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem adorn the uniforms of the riders. After the Sunday event with President Herzog in Jerusalem, the team will visit Yad Vashem before transferring to Tel Aviv, where the riders will visit the Sylvan Adams National Velodrome, the first such facility in the Middle East. The Velodrome will be the host of the upcoming UCI Track Champions League.