Israel’s cycling godfather climbs mountains

With Giro d’Italia set to kick off in Jerusalem this week, Sylvan Adams takes pride in a tough journey.

Israel Cycling Academy co-owner Sylvan Adams (right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) (photo credit: SHAHAR TZARFATI)
Israel Cycling Academy co-owner Sylvan Adams (right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)
(photo credit: SHAHAR TZARFATI)
There were many people involved in bringing the Giro d’Italia to Israel.
However, there is no doubt that there is one person without which one of cycling’s Grand Tour’s would have never arrived in the Holy Land.
Israeli-Canadian philanthropist Sylvan Adams, the co-owner of the country’s only professional team Israel Cycling Academy, has provided the inspiration and much of the funding that was required to attract the Giro, which gets under way with a 10.1-kilometer time-trial stage in Jerusalem on Friday.
It will then continue with road stages between Haifa and Tel Aviv (167 km) and Beersheba and Eilat (226 km). Following one rest day, the three-week race will resume in southern Italy.
“I have two reasons for bringing the Giro to Israel,” Adams told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “The first that I want to show this beautiful country in its pure reality to nearly one billion television viewers. My experience with first time visitors to Israel is that they are almost universally pleasantly surprised. Because nothing that they encountered fits with what their preconceptions were prior to coming. So this is a way to invite one billion first time visitors to Israel.
“Unlike a soccer match or a basketball game, which take place inside a stadium, cycling takes places outdoors. So for three days, with 16 hours of TV coverage, starting in Jerusalem, our beautiful and important national capital, and then going from Acre in the north all the way down to Eilat they will literally see all the country.”
Adams wants the world to not only see Israel’s scenery, but also show it what he calls normal Israel.
“We will be able to show a billion people without the filter of the traditional media what Israel is really all about,” he explained. “Also to show off that we are democratic and open and pluralistic and free and most importantly that we are safe.”
Israel Cycling Academy was established in December 2014 with the declared goal of putting Israel on the bicycle map of the world and providing an opportunity for the next generation of Israeli riders.
ICA has also established an all-Israeli development squad whose young riders compete internationally.
Adams’s support has seen the team’s budget almost double ahead of the 2018 season, standing at more than five million euros. ICA’s budget in its first season four years ago was a fifth of that.
Thanks to the additional investment, ICA has recruited several notable cyclists such as Ben Hermans of Belgium and Spain’s Ruben Plaza, a stage winner in the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. The squad for the Giro will include eight riders in all, with two of them being Israelis. Only one Israeli rider was expected to be part of the final lineup, but both Guy Sagiv and Guy Niv proved they deserve a berth and will become the first blue-and-white cyclists to compete in a grand tour.
“The second goal for bringing the Giro is to develop the sport of cycling in Israel,” said Adams. “We are bringing cycling’s second most important race and people will see the sport at its highest level. I’m hopeful that the fact we also have a home team will mean parents that are choosing a sport for their kids or kids watching the race will be inspired to pick up the bicycle so we will build a pipeline of cyclists so that we will have Israelis competing at the highest level.”
Adams was understandably delighted that both Sagiv and Niv made the team.
“Astonishingly we will have two Israelis in the Giro and I have to give those athletes credit because they earned their way onto the Giro roster,” he noted. “We have 24 riders on the roster and only eight could be selected to the team and these two athletes distinguished themselves in 2018 by their performances and by their heart and dedication and devotion.
“I think this validates what ICA is doing,” Adams added, “We call ourselves an academy and our objective is to grow the sport in Israel.”
Adams spoke about the three goals ICA has set itself for the Giro.
“We want to do what we have done all year so far and that is to show the team colors which means being active and getting out in the breakaway. The team’s name also has the word Israel in it so every time one of our riders gets in a breakaway the announcers are saying the word Israel over a three- to four-hour period 100-150 times. This is a way in which we are promoting the country.
“This truly is a Zionist project,” he stated. “Not just a cycling team, and that is why the name of the country is in the name of the team.
“We are also hoping to steal a stage,” Adams added. “I say steal because we will need the stars to be in the right alignment. You need to be lucky in bike racing, but if we can get lucky on the right day and make our luck by being active in the race we hope we can take a stage in the Giro. And the third goal is to see an Israeli complete a grand tour. We have two Israelis and we’d like to see one or both of them complete a grand tour and that would be a historic moment for Israeli cycling.”