Chris Froome

Original Article Published on the JNS

“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,” said Guy Niv, a cyclist with Team Israel Start-Up Nation.

Guy Niv

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 at Ben-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.

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.

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froom greets some of his younger fans during a stop outside of Jerusalem by members of Team Israel Start-Up Nation. Source: Twitter.

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.”

Cyclists with Team Start-Up Nation Israel tour Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Credit: Noa Arnon/Cycling Academy LTD.

‘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!”

Cyclists with Team Start-Up Israel meet Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Credit: Noa Arnon/Cycling Academy LTD.

‘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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Original Article Published on the JNS

On Tuesday, on the 150 flat kilometers (93 miles) from Redon to Fougeres, Israel Start-Up Nation was blessed with its first top 10 result in this year’s Tour de France. 

Days before the start of the annual Tour de France, cycling’s most prestigious race, the Israeli national team’s star rider and four-time winner of the event, Chris Froome, was enthusiastic and optimistic.

Froome has been working hard to return to his previous level of performance following the severe injuries he sustained in a 2019 crash that occurred while he was previewing the time trial course at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. He suffered a double femur fracture to his right leg, multiple additional fractures and a collapsed lung.

Yet in the “Israel Start-Up Nation” team’s pre-Tour de France press conference, Froome expressed hope that this year’s Tour de France, held from June 26-July 18, “will be a steppingstone to get to my formal level of racing. I am really hoping to be on the starting line and put my recovery process behind me.”

Little did Froome know that a few days after those comments, he would be involved in another, highly preventable crash. On the first day of the Tour de France, a spectator stepped into the path of the riders to unfurl a sign, causing a massive pileup of cyclists. Consequently, seven of eight riders for Israel Start-Up Nation crashed in Stage 1 of the race.

Froome did not sustain any broken bones and the new injury was to his left leg, not the one fractured in 2019. He experienced swelling and bruising to his left inner thigh. He also slightly injured his thorax, which initially affected his breathing. He underwent scans and checks until 1 a.m. and was able to resume riding in Stage 2.

In regard to his left leg, Froome reported, “It’s pretty swollen and pretty painful, it hurts when I stand up but it’s alright. I was able to get through today and if I take it one day at a time, I can try and survive until the time trial. Then I can maybe take it as a recovery day. I hope to come round and give more to the team over the next week.”

Ultimately, all of the Israeli team’s riders completed Stage 1, with experienced Tour de France rider Guillaume Boivin ranking as the team’s best finisher in 31st place. After the stage, Boivin recounted, “My teammates had told me that the first day would be hectic and they were right on the money on that one. For sure, it’s not ideal to start a Grand Tour like this, but we also have to remember that this is a three-week race….We have to put this behind us and look forward. There is still a lot of racing to come.”

Israel Start-Up Nation bounced back during Sunday’s second stage. Michael Woods, the team’s leader, was true to his word from the pre-race press conference. At the time, he reported, “I think I can be quite competitive. I am one of the stronger climbers on the world tour.” Indeed, he was competitive on the climbs and on the uphill finish of Stage 2 on Mûr-de-Bretagne, though he acknowledged the day was tough and that he was shaken up by Saturday’s crashes.

“Mentally, it was a struggle out there today,” Woods said Sunday. “After the crash yesterday, I was pretty scared all day. However, my legs felt really good. When Van der Poel took off, I was a little too far back. I tried attacking but I didn’t want to play the GC (general classification) game, so when the win wasn’t an option anymore, I just sat in. Still, I’m really happy to bounce back like this and see that I’m able to climb with the best guys. This gives me a lot of confidence for the mountain stages.”

Woods finished Stage 2 race in an impressive 11th place. He is humbled to be leading the Israel-Start Up Nation team, saying, “If you had told me earlier in my career I’d be leading a national team, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Stage 3, from Lorient to Pontivy, also featured several crashes — but the Israeli team was not involved in them. Boivin was the team’s best finisher, in 23rd place. Israel Start-Up Nation’s sports director, Rik Verbrugghe, said Monday, “Today was a really nervous stage, especially towards the end…but the good thing is that we passed this stage without any crashes. Now, we look forward to tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, on the 150 flat kilometers (93 miles) from Redon to Fougeres, Israel Start-Up Nation was blessed with its first top 10 result in this year’s Tour de France.  André Greipel was 10th in the bunch sprint on stage 4.  Teammates Rick Zabel and Boivin Guillaume finished 15 and 21 respectively.

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Original Article Published on the JNS

When Israeli Guy Niv took his bar mitzvah trip with his father to watch the Tour de France, he never imagined that he would be back 13 years later as a rider. Niv, who is now with Team Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN), is the first Israeli to complete the most well-known cycling race in the world. He recently joined the team in Girona, Spain, for a training camp and returned soon after to Israel just before Ben-Gurion International Airport shut down for a week due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Niv, who started riding as a hobby at age 10, hopes to inspire young children’s interest in biking. Despite some uncertainty about the upcoming racing season due to COVID-19, he notes, “I am really excited for the new season and to see new faces, including big names, and to work with and learn from them. My motivation is very high.”

As for his participation in general, “it was a dream come true,” he says, keeping it all in perspective. “At the end of the day, it is a bike ride. It doesn’t change who you are and what you give to the world.”

Team Israel Start-Up Nation will compete at the World Tour level—the highest level of professional cycling—for just the second season. The team recently signed four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who is currently completing rehabilitation from a serious bike injury in California. Froome, 35 a Kenyan-born British cyclist, made clear in a recent virtual press conference that he is very committed to the team and to Israel.

Guy Niv. Credit: Bettini Photo.

As he reports, “This is very much a long-term commitment for me. I have committed to the end of my career. I’m in to give everything I can to help the team in every way possible, as well as improve myself and get back to the top.”

Froome will now be teammates with fellow star-rider Dan Martin, who finished fourth overall in the 2020 Vuelta a Espana (one of cycling’s three Grand Tours, alongside the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia). Martin notes that he is pleased to be riding with Froome, saying “I am happy to see how the team has been strengthened; it gives me confidence. I know how much I can learn from Chris and the others. We can become a stronger team together. It’s a team effort.”

‘True sportsmanship and determination’

The team owes much of its success to the dedication and passion of team co-owner, Canadian-Israeli billionaire, Sylvan Adams. An avid and accomplished biker who won the 2017 World Masters Championship in Manchester, England, he is co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, and the visionary and funder behind the Sylvan Adams Velodrome—the first velodrome in Israel and the Middle East.

The velodrome, a cycle-racing track and a Tel Aviv architectural wonder located near the Hadar Yosef Athletic Stadium, was inaugurated in 2018. That happened just before Israel hosted the 101st Giro d’Italia bike race—the first time it ever took place outside of Europe. Adams reportedly donated $80 million for the race, in which 175 people cycled throughout Israel, including the final leg from Beersheva to Eilat.

Adams, who made aliyah five years ago from Montreal, has been at the forefront of showcasing Israel in a positive light in front of an international audience. In addition to bringing the Giro D’Italia to Israel, Adams brought soccer superstar Lionel Messi, and the national teams of Argentina and Uruguay, to Israel in November 2019 for a friendly soccer exhibition. Adams is proud of Israel and practical, always leveraging the popularity of these high-profile visitors to Israel and the extensive TV viewership around these events. “Messi has 230 million followers on social media,” notes Adams.

Chris Froome and Sylvan Adams. Credit: Brian Hodes/Velo Images.

In 2018, Adams donated $5 million to SpaceIL, the nonprofit that nearly landed the first Israeli spacecraft (“Beresheet”) on the moon. And in 2019, he helped bring Madonna to Israel to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, noting that she has “300 million music fans.”

Adams likes to say that he is engaged in “diplomacy, not politics.”

He adds, “The camera doesn’t lie. We are reaching out to show the true face of Israel.”

While his generosity is seen across many projects that promote Israel, cycling remains his true passion. And he feels strongly that Israel Start-Up Nation is “not just a cycling team, but a mission.”

In fact, he sees ISN as “the only team in the world which is the Team of the Jewish people.”

Adams adds that the project has two goals—promoting cycling in Israel and “promoting the home country.” As he elaborates, “we are representing our home country around the world with true sportsmanship and determination.”

‘We respect our cultural traditions’

The team members, who come from all over the world and are mainly not Jewish, serve as ambassadors for Israel. Adams strives to bring team members to see Israel, though this year’s January training camp was relocated to Spain due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.

Froome looks forward to his next visit to Israel. “My only experience with Israel was at the Giro d’Italia 2018, and that blew me away. It was not at all what I expected.”

When team members come to Israel, they travel to such important sites as Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Yad Vashem and the bars, restaurants and beaches of Tel Aviv. “We let them see Israel, we don’t preach,” says Adams, who is confident that cyclists will speak accurately and positively about Israel as they are interviewed by media around the world.

The riders even get a taste of Israel and Jewish culture on the road; Adams takes pride in having team Shabbat dinners all around the world. “At our training camps, we do Kiddush in front of the whole team. This is in our DNA. We respect our cultural traditions. Even at the Tour de France, Guy made Kiddush, as we have as a people for 3,000 years.”

Team Israel Start-Up Nation training in Spain. Credit: Noa Arnon.

When Canadian rider, Guillaume Boivin, told family and friends in 2015 that he was planning to visit Israel, they were nervous. “I was struck by how welcoming and comfortable it was,” reports Boivan, the first rider recruited by Adams. “Tel Aviv is a fantastic city, and everyone was willing to help.”

Boivin continues to be an ambassador for Israel and hopes that his teammates will have the same experience he has had. “I think everyone should witness Israel—not just hear stories—and experience what the team means to the owners and creators.”

Adams hopes to bring new team members to Israel in the next few weeks before traveling to Dubai for the seven-day United Emirates Tour bike race from Feb. 21-27. If the pandemic cooperates, then Froome will make his debut there—in the United Arab Emirates following the recent signing of the Abraham Accords with Israel—on the world stage representing the Blue and White.

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