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Israel launched its first WorldTour team Wednesday, the latest sporting initiative funded by a Canadian-Israeli billionaire who sees it as a potential bridge to the Arab world.
The team, called Israel Start-Up Nation, will be the first from the Jewish state to compete in cycling’s premier competition.
“We will have our Israel name at the Tour de France, being seen by 2.6 billion people — with our blue and white colours,” Israeli-Canadian businessman Sylvan Adams told AFP.
“I think it’s quite symbolic.”
The team will feature 30 riders on its roster, including four Israeli riders announced today for the first time: Itamar Einhorn, Omer Goldstein, Guy Niv, and Guy Sagiv. “It will definitely be a challenge for them. They have progressed every season, but next season they will have to do it again and this time it will be a new kind of level. I am confident, though, that they will reach it”. The 4 Israeli riders selected to the team, Guy Sagiv, Guy Niv, Omer Goldstein and Itamar Einhorn made history as the first Israelis in a WorldTour team. Sagiv and Niv already successfully finished Grand Tours during in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The team will take the WorldTour spot of Swiss registered team Katusha-Alpecin, which has been taken over by the Israel Cycling Academy (ICA).
The move is heavily funded by Adams, who has spent millions in recent years organising a number of sporting events in Israel, in what he says are philanthropic gestures to show off the “real Israel.”
These have included the hosting of the Giro D’Italia opening stages in Israel in 2018, as well as bringing Lionel Messi-led Argentina to play a friendly match in Tel Aviv last month.
The Israel Cycling Academy was only formed in 2014.
Its riders are perhaps unlikely to compete for the Tour de France’s coveted yellow jersey in their first outing, but Adams hailed the symbolism of their appearance.
Its riders come from 18 countries and Adams said at least one of the eight selected to race in the Tour would be Israeli.
“I hope we will see an Israeli complete the Tour de France, which will be an historic event.”
Cycling is still relatively new in Israel, though it hosts a velodrome — the first in the Middle East.
Guy Niv, an Israeli member of the team, said appearing in the Tour was a “childhood dream.”
“It is a great honor and privilege for me to ride in an Israeli team, that represents the country I come from, to show the world different sides of Israel.”
He said it wasn’t “enough for us just to be there” but they wanted to compete.
“We want to step forward.”
Speaking at the velodrome in Tel Aviv, Adams argued sport can be a fast track to improving Israel’s standing in the region.
Only two Arab countries recognise Israel, in protest at the country’s treatment of the Palestinians.
But Gulf states have improving relations with the country behind the scenes.
Adams said he had invited Middle Eastern countries, including Gulf state Bahrain, to use the velodrome.
“I have made a public invitation to our neighbours — since you don’t have such a facility, send us your youth — we will train together, we will create youth programs, we will help you develop your national teams,” Adams said.
The Israel-Start Up Nation (Israel Cycling Academy) WorldTour team roster
The team roster: Matteo Badiletti (Switzerland), Rudy Barbier (France), Jenthe Biermans (Belgium), Guillaume Bovin (Canada), Matthias Brändle (Austria), Alexander Cataford (Canada), Davide Cimolai (Italy), Alex Dowsett (Great Britian), Itamar Einhorn (Israel), Omer Goldstein (Israel), Andre Greipel (Germany), Ben Hermans (Belgium), Hugo Hofstetter (France), Reto Hollenstein (Austria), Dan Martin (Ireland), Travis McCabe (USA), Daniel Navarro (Spain), Krists Neilands (Latvia), Guy Niv (Israel), James Piccoli (Canada), Nils Politt (Germany), Mihkel Räim (Estonia), Alexis Renard (France), Guy Sagiv (Israel), Patrick Schelling (Switzerland), Rory Sutherland (Australia), Norman Vahtra (Estonia), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark) and Rick Zabel, (Germany).