Jerusalem to become world cycling hub

Shani Bloch, the first Israeli road cyclist to compete in the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, Giro d’Italia Femminile, and Road World Championships.

The Israel Cycling Academy is also a ‘Zionist start-up project. (photo credit: NOGA KOREM)
The Israel Cycling Academy is also a ‘Zionist start-up project.
(photo credit: NOGA KOREM)
Rumor has it that Israel is about to roll into the big time in the international cycling world. According to an article published last month by Cycling News, the 2018 Giro d’Italia, one of cycling’s Grand Tour races, will start with a time trial in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Two other bicycle-race stages – races whose riders start simultaneously and share the road – are planned for the capital, plus another two stages are being considered for Tel Aviv and the Negev.
Tsadok Yecheskeli, media director for the Israel Cycling Academy (ICA), said his organization has been a driving force in such a decision, but would not confirm it as official. An announcement is supposed to be made later this month.
He said team members are preparing for a strong 2018, using the off season to train from morning to night across Israel and in other countries. Hoping for their best year yet, each summer ICA bikers spend some time in Aspen, Colorado, where some of the team’s most dedicated sponsors reside and the altitude is high and conducive to rigorous training.
“Our life is pretty much cycling: We wake up, go to breakfast, train, have a gym session and by then we’re tired, so we eat dinner and go to sleep,” said ICA mountain- bike rider Noga Korem, who trains and works professionally with the team.
Korem and fellow team member Dan Craven, a Namibian, took a short break in early August to offer a special training program for Jewish campers at Camp Ramah in the Rockies. It was an unlikely collaboration that only came about due to a shidduch made by Colorado donor and supporter Melinda Goldrich, who is also a supporter of Camp Ramah.
Eliav Bock, executive director of the camp, said, “It exposed campers to a less-known aspect of Israeli society” and it was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“At our summer camp, we promote Zionism and a connection with Israel. We talk about the connection with the people, the state and the land,” Bock said.
“This is one facet of Israel – the biking culture – that can really put Israel in a positive light.”
Bock said about one-quarter of all camp programmers are recruited from Israel. Roughly 45 campers, between the ages of 10 and 16, and 15 staff members took part in ICA’s bike-training program. Camp Ramah in the Rockies serves about 470 campers over its different summer sessions.
“It was pretty cool,” said Yoav Shames, 14, of New York. “You don’t really get to meet bikers that compete on an international level.” He said the bikers taught him how to better navigate small roads and tight turns, and how to pedal evenly to give him more control over his bike.
Yonah Taragin, also 14 and from New York, said, “It was just amazing. I didn’t even know Israelis are so into biking. To see that the Jewish country could be represented by such amazing athletes – that was really cool.”
Less than one week after the ICA team members left Ramah, a fire broke out at the camp, destroying the camp kitchen and dining hall and forcing campers to relocate to the JCC Ranch in Elbert County for the remainder of the summer. No one was hurt, but dozens of cellphones and Israeli staff’s passports were destroyed in the flames.
ICA was founded in December 2014 in Jerusalem by Ron Baron as Israel’s first professional cycling team. The vision, according to Korem, is to help Israeli cycling become more professional and to bring young cyclists, especially Israelis, to the top levels of the cycling field. Today the team is managed by Ran Margaliot.
Korem said there is a lack of a cycling tradition in Israel, which has always been an obstacle to success. Korem said she had to push to make it on her own. In the last couple of years, she has competed in several Enduro World Series races.
ICA works to upgrade this mediocre cycling environment and to use participation in grand tours and the Tour de France as the platform to inspire a new generation of young riders in places normally underrepresented in cycling.
ICA is also a “Zionist start-up project,” according to Yecheskeli, who said the team wants to promote Israeli life as “normal” to world audiences and young Jews who might see only the CNN side of the story. This is part of what the bikers aim for at Camp Ramah.
“Most bike teams just wake up in the morning to go to ride – to ride faster, win races,” said Korem. “It is im-portant for our team to show that Israel is not just a place of war, that there is something more to Israel than that. We want to spread rumors that good things are going on in Israel.”
In general, the team is active in community activities within the Jewish cyclist scene, especially in Colorado, where the team has wealthy and loyal Jewish supporters like Goldrich.
But ICA is not all Israeli. In fact, the team is composed of 16 male bikers from 12 countries – but they all wear the blue-and-white Israeli racing shirt. It is listed as a nonprofit organization and funded by private donors and sponsors.
Among its backers are Cannondale, Lazer, Hertz Israel and Verge, as well as Sylvan Adams, a Canadian billionaire who recently emigrated from Canada to Israel after retiring from running his family’s real-estate development business.
In January 2017, the team upgraded to what is known as the pro-continental level, a surprise after only three years, according to reports in the sports media. In 2017, ICA riders raced across the world from Austria, Slovakia, Korea, Canada, the United States and Great Britain to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Switzerland and Norway.
The highest level of biking is Pro. Korem said there are only 18 Pro teams in the world.
Hosting the Giro d’Italia race would be a big deal for Israel, though it would also be a major security challenge, according to Cycling News. The price tag for security would fall on Israel.
In addition to the ICA, there is an Israeli national bike team that is run by the Israeli Cycling Federation, but it is small and underfunded, according to Korem. Nonetheless, Israel sent two bikers to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Shani Bloch, the first Israeli road cyclist to compete in the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, Giro d’Italia Femminile, and Road World Championships, and the first Israeli road cyclist to compete in the Olympic Games since 1960, represented Israel at the 2016 Summer Olympics in the 87.6-mile Women’s Road Race. Shlomi Haimy, a mountain cyclist who specializes in cross-country cycling and rides on the Novus OMX Pro Team, competed for Israel in Men’s Mountain Biking.
“ICA has really opened doors for everyone interested in biking,” said Korem. “It has improved Israeli cycling and added played a role in spreading the good word about Israel.”