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November 10, 2021 10:14 am

Israel’s Top-Ranked Cycling Team Makes Its Long-Awaited Homecoming

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Israeli cyclist Guy Niv is seen on Chemin de la Polytechnique, during the second lap of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal 2018. Photo: Maniacduhockey via Wikimedia Commons. – When Team Israel Start-Up Nation cyclist Guy Niv connects with his fellow riders, it usually requires flying from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Europe or some other far-off destination for a training ride or a race.

This past Friday, Niv had a different airport experience—he greeted his fellow riders atBen-Gurion they arrived for their first full-team visit to Israel since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent opening of the gates to tourism in the country.

“It is super-nice to welcome everyone to Israel—and to go to training from home with no flights, no packing,” he declared.

The 27-year-old, who lives in Atzmon in Israel’s north, said “my girlfriend took me to the airport to meet the team.” Niv spoke with JNS from the team bus as they headed to Jerusalem for a packed weekend of festivities that will include some riding, but mostly touring, bonding, meet-and-greets with Israelis and a Sunday reception for the team at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

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Israel Start-Up Nation—its first professional cycling team—was established in 2015 and includes riders from Israel and abroad. The team began to compete at a higher level when Sylvan Adams joined as a co-owner alongside Ron Baron. The team has competed in its first Grand Tour, joined the WorldTour (the highest level of professional cycling) and secured a spot in the 2020 Tour de France. In 2021, Israeli rider Itamar Einhorn defeated ex-world champion Peter Sagan to claim the first WorldTour victory by an Israeli.

Adams is impressed with his team and not at all disappointed that they won’t spend the majority of their time on intensive rides. “This will be a more relaxed camp—more of a tourism and bonding camp—and will permit the team to experience some of the marvels of Israel,” he said. Israel Start-Up Nation is currently ranked in the top 10 in the world for the first time in its history and enjoyed 17 victories this season.

Riding legend Chris Froome, 36, who has won the Tour de France four times in addition to other prestigious bike races, is looking forward to being in Israel and doing some riding.

Back in the country since his last race in Spain, Niv recounted that he hiked in the desert with friends and celebrated his brother’s recent marriage, and now looks forward to spending time with his teammates. Now, it’s back to training-related events. He reported that there will only be two or three team rides; he and his Israeli teammates are scheduled to lead one in the Golan Heights.

Niv sees this trip as an important opportunity for his fellow riders to truly experience Israel. “The team has the name Israel on its jersey. It is important that they will know what Israel looks like—the culture, the people, the history, the food. It will give them a nice taste of what it looks like and feels like to be here.”

He noted that while his fellow riders are “athletes, not politicians,” they are often asked about the situation in Israel. “The best way for them to answer is to be here a bit and see. They will have a chance to form their own opinions.”

Israeli teammate Itamar Einhorn, 24, said he sees a benefit in bringing the team to Israel: “I’m always excited to show our riders what the country has to offer.”

‘I didn’t expect so many fans’

The team has already met and interacted with hundreds of devoted fans. On their first morning of ISN Homecoming Camp in Israel, fans met riders, got autographs and posed for selfies as they rode from Jerusalem to the summit of Nes Harim in the Judean hills, the largest meet-up destination for cyclists in Israel, and hosted a morning coffee stop at the Bar Bahar restaurant in the Jerusalem Forest in Bar Giora.

“I didn’t expect so many fans and riders,” acknowledged Froome. Later in the day on Saturday, they took a walking tour of the Old City and the Western Wall.

At the Sunday event, Israeli President Isaac Herzog enthusiastically greeted the riders, saying: “We welcome the team whole-heartedly, and we bless you that you are representing Jerusalem and Israel in the world of cycling. This team shows incredible professionalism, and we are honored to have you all here. We are very proud that you are formatting into a world-class team, and we believe that you will only continue to get better and get more results next year.”

Herzog shared his enthusiasm for the delegation’s visit on Twitter: “Thrilled to welcome back to Israel the incredible cyclists of @TeamIsraelSUN, including world legend @chrisfroome, after a season with a top-ten team ranking and 17 international wins! Enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Israel at lightning speed!”

‘We try to use the sport to build bridges’

Adams has been involved with many high-profile events in Israel designed to showcase the land and its people. They include bringing Madonna to the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel in 2010 and donating $5 million to SpaceIL, the organization working to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon.

He said he is pleased that the riders have the opportunity to visit Israel and that Israeli supporters get to spend time with them.

“It’s very important for us to bring the team here to introduce the riders to our home country to make them understand what Israel is as we are ambassadors for the nation. We don’t have a brand sponsor like other teams; our brand is Israel, and we carry the name everywhere we go. Another mission of ours is to help make the world a better place, and we try to use the sport to build bridges and to make new friends around the world.”

Prior to the trip, Froome reported, “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.”

He made it a point to emphasize that he likes what he has seen so far: “I have so enjoyed being in Israel these last few days and would really like to come back with my family next year. In this team, one of our biggest visions is to inspire the new generation of Israeli cyclists. When we met our young fans, it was clear to see how they were all dreaming of becoming professional riders. You could their eyes sparkle when they met the team and to witness that vision of ours being realized right now is such a joy.”

The team started its schedule with a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem on Sunday. Members visited Tel Aviv on Monday. They plan to meet with young riders to talk about cycling and racing at several schools once back up north. Additionally, the team will be presented at the Expo on Thursday, one day before the 2021 Ironman 70.3 Tiberias competition and its 2,000 competitors on Nov. 12.

Israel Start-Up Nation announced that Israeli riders Niv, Einhorn, Omer Goldstein and Guy Sagiv will stay with the team next year, maintaining an important Israeli presence on the team.

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