Israeli cycling ready to take center stage

With world-class riders, blue-and-white team has high hopes heading into Tour de France

Israel Start-Up Nation cyclists pose on their bikes while wearing masks ahead of the 2020 Tour de France, which gets under way on Saturday (photo credit: NOA ARNON)
Israel Start-Up Nation cyclists pose on their bikes while wearing masks ahead of the 2020 Tour de France, which gets under way on Saturday
(photo credit: NOA ARNON)
After Israel Start-Up Nation (“ISN”), the Israeli professional cycling team, announced its rider roster for the 2020 Tour de France on Wednesday during a press conference in Nice, the squad has set its sights on the race itself, which is scheduled to begin on Saturday and run through September 20.
The lineup includes Irishman Dan Martin, German riders Andre Greipel and Nils Politt, Frenchman Hugo Hofstetter, Belgian cyclists Ben Hermans and Tom Van Asbroeck, Latvian rider Krists Neilands and Guy Niv, who will be the first Israeli ever to ride on cycling’s largest stage.
“I am honored and privileged to represent my country and team in the biggest race in cycling and one of the greatest sporting events in the world,” said Niv. “And to be the first Israeli to do so? It might sound like a cliché, but it’s a dream come true. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s huge, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do – and now we are about to make history. I cannot wait!”
Niv began his cycling career as a dedicated mountain biker before being recruited by the Israel Cycling Academy (“ICA”) three years ago. He is now an established national time-trial champion even though he only took up road racing upon his ICA recruitment.
“When we founded the team five years ago, we dreamed of this moment. But we strive for more than just the glory of racing in the Tour de France. We want every kid in Israel to say, ‘I can be Guy Niv one day. I can get to the Tour,’” said team co-owner Ron Baron. “We are committed to fostering young Israeli talent with our Israel Cycling Academy continental team, so I say to the young Israeli generation: The doors are open!”
Along with Niv’s placement in the starting squad, this will also be the first year an Israeli-owned team will be participating in the Tour. Team co-owner Sylvan Adams called it “a dream come true. We are here not to just ride along but to be seen. We will be in the mix in every stage!
“This team is more than just a team – this is a project and we are on a mission. Our mission has two sides; on the one hand we are promoting cycling in Israel, creating a whole ecosystem for cycling in Israel. The second mission – as we wear the blue and white of Israel – is to promote our country and to show the real face of Israel, an Israel promoting peace, tolerance and diversity.”
ISN’s full roster consists of 30 riders from 16 different nationalities, hailing from five continents, possessing multiple and sometimes contrasting religious views – which in itself presents a scene of coexistence on one of the world’s largest stages.
Toward the end of last year, to prepare for the stiff competition of the 2020 Tour de France, ISN secured some of the world’s top cycling talents to help guide the young team to success, including world-class veteran talents in Greipel (157 individual wins) and Martin (a top-10 finisher in the 2018 Tour), who will be riding in their 10th and 8th consecutive Tours, respectively.
However, ISN’s goal this year is to go for stage wins as a team instead of attempting to thrust a rider into the coveted yellow 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.
“We have put together the team that we believe is best to execute our strategy,” said Team Manager Kjell Carlstrom. “We are hunting for stage wins and as the route is demanding, we have ensured that we have all possibilities covered. All the teams, of course, are out for success, but we’re focused on our goal to win a stage.”
Martin, a gifted climber who is currently nursing a sacral fracture he suffered two weeks prior during the second stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, said that rest and therapy have been a big help and he feels that he is ready and that he can make a mark in the tour.
“I’m truly grateful to the team for being so patient and allowing me the time to really assess my condition after the crash in the Dauphine. My recovery progressed much better than expected and I was back on the bike, riding easily after only three days. Since then I have continued to improve and believe I can start the Tour de France in good condition,” Martin added. “I expect to suffer through the first stages as I have missed a bit of training, but I am incredibly excited to use my experience in the race to help the team. Once I get back into the rhythm of racing, I will look for opportunities to take a stage win.”
Storied sprinter Greipel, the other team leader, is already in full gear and excited to be in the mix for the 10th straight time.
“It’s always great to be here. And this will be a great celebration as the first Tour for the Israeli team and with the first Israeli rider. The team can be proud,” said Greipel.
Hofstetter said that he will be looking for a stage win, as it’s always been a dream of his to win a Tour de France stage However, he will be sticking with team strategy attempting to set-up the leaders, Martin and Greipel, for good positioning by supporting in any way possible – whether it be bringing water bottles or holding positioning for the veterans to make moves within after a large climb or in a bunch sprint.
Politt agreed saying, “I think our goal should be that the team gets a stage win. I think that is realistic, with the riders we have – there are some good candidates for a stage win. Of course, I will try at some point to be in the day’s break group – it is a great dream to win a stage.”
Aside from the 2020 Tour, the allure of ISN is the partnership with Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) – the origin of the teams namesake – a Tel Aviv-based non-profit organization that connects companies around the world to Israeli innovation.
Just last month, that partnership helped ISN sign Britain’s most decorated road cyclist to its roster, four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Froome will begin racing for ISN after this season, leaving Team Ineos.
“I’m really excited to be joining the ISN family,” said Froome. “I look forward to challenging and being challenged by their talent and continuing to strive for the success that I’ve enjoyed up to now. ISN’s impact on the sport is rapidly expanding, and I’m energized to be along for the ride. I feel we can achieve great things together.”
The partnership with SNC will assist the team in getting the most out of cutting-edge Israeli technologies and ISN has high hopes that it will give the Israeli team a competitive advantage to compete against the top talents in the world during the 2020 Tour de France.
In addition, the partnership intends to expedite research and development initiatives focused towards cycling innovations and display these new modern methods on the world stage – as well as broaden the “reach of relevant innovations arising from this collaboration, specifically in health, wellness, fitness, sleep improvement, physical rehabilitation, mental conditioning, nutrition, water management, Augmented Reality, new materials, and safety technologies, beyond the sporting world.”
ISN has also partnered up with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which dubbed the diverse team of riders “Peace Ambassadors” in 2018 – and the ICA riders will display the Peres Center logo on their brand-new uniforms to help disseminate a message of peace and coexistence to the world when the riders take their marks at the 2020 Tour de France.
Considering antisemitism’s prevalence in France, with even some BDS campaigns targeting the French ISN riders, claiming that by participating in the 2020 Tour de France they are in turn supporting “Israeli apartheid through sport,” the grace the riders show in the upcoming Tour, whether it be through performance or demeanor, will surely have a lot of eyes dissecting their every move.
No pressure, right?
By championing a team of riders from multiple countries, religions, creeds and nationalities – ISN and more importantly the riders inadvertently are “peace ambassadors” and every rider on the team will be under the spotlight come Saturday.