Tour de France

Original Article Published On The JNS

The famed race, which each year covers 3,413 kilometers (2,121 miles) over 21 stages in 23 days, featured eight riders wearing the Israel Start-Up Nation jersey.

When Belgian professional road and cyclo-cross racer Wout van Aert took the 21st and final stage of the Tour de France and Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogačar won the overall 2021 Tour de France on Sunday, there weren’t many Israeli riders in sight. Even without Israeli riders winning the race, this year’s Tour de France was an unprecedented victory for the Jewish state.

The famed race, which each year covers 3,413 kilometers (2,121 miles) over 21 stages in 23 days, featured eight riders wearing the Israel Start-Up Nation jersey. The Israel team, which included two Canadians, five Europeans and Israeli-born Omer Goldstein, put Israel and Israel cycling on the map in perpetuity.

Israel’s Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov was on hand at the finish line in Paris to greet the riders and show just how much Israel cycling matters.

“We are so proud to see an Israeli team carry the Israeli flag at one of the largest sporting events in the world,” he said. “Thanks to the partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, the team is promoting our brand of tourism to Israel throughout the race. Events of this kind are the biggest generators of tourism in the world, so it was important for me to come and learn about what is needed, and how it will be possible to bring major international sporting events to Israel on the day the skies open.”

Thanks in large part to the visionary leadership and financial backing of the team’s co-owner, Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams, the world is beginning to take note of Israel as a bike-racing country and as a tourist destination. In May 2018, Adams, known for bringing positive attention through such stunts as bringing Madonna to Israel for the Eurovision song competition, arranged to have Israel host the three-week Giro d’Italia bike race.

Israel Start-Up Nation rider leads the peloton at the Tour de France in front of the Arc de Triomphe, July 2021. Credit: Courtesy.

Adams is proud of Israel Start-Up Nation’s performance at this year’s Tour De France. “ISN’s second Tour represented another building block in the team’s growth. For the first time, we were on the podium, with Michael Woods earning the iconic polka-dot climber’s jersey,” he said. “We also had our share of bad luck, with terrible crashes destroying our GC hopes on the first day.

“But the team held strong and was cheered all along the roads of France, with shouts of Israel, Israel, Allez [Go!]! Also, allez Start-Up Nation in recognition of the team moniker and allez Chris Froome, in respect of our great four-time Tour winner. We have put the ‘Start-Up Nation’ on the world map. And a special mention of our Israeli Omer Goldstein for racing like a consummate pro, despite being in his first Tour de France.”

‘Quick to change focus and fight for new goals’

Israel Start-Up Nation boasted several noteworthy accomplishments throughout the three-week race, while also facing some challenges. It finished in the top 10 on nine stages and the top five on three occasions. Canadian Michael Woods took the KOM (red polka-dot leaders’ jersey with blue snowcapped mountains and the words “RIDE ON” at the base) after a big push on Stage 14. Woods finished both third and fifth during the Tour de France, while teammate Dan Martin of Ireland made the top five with an impressive performance on the final mountain stage.

Sports manager Rik Verbrugghe says the riders should be proud of the way they fought to overcome a difficult start to the race. On the first day, seven out of eight on the Israeli team were involved in several crashes. One was caused by a fan who stepped onto the course to unfurl a banner. “We had a challenging beginning, but we never lost morale, and the guys were quick to change focus and fight for new goals,” he said.

Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams (center) poses with other members of Team Israel Start-Up Nation, July 2021. Credit: Courtesy.

The Tour concluded three weeks later in Paris with the traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées. The Israeli team finished with a strong performance as André Greipel of Germany sprinted to fifth place. The final stage—Stage 21, 67 flat miles (108 kilometers) from Chatou to Paris at the Champs-Élysées—concluded with Israel riders Omer Goldstein in fifth place, Rick Zabel 23rd and Guillaume Bovin 29th.

Greipel had recently announced that this would be his final Tour de France. His teammates, mindful of what this race means to him, positioned him near the front for the sprint and at the end.

“This was an emotional day, knowing that I would take on my last Tour de France stage. In the sprint, due to the new finish, everybody gambled a bit in the headwind, and I guess I gambled a bit too much,” reported Greipel, who vocalized wishing he finished even higher in the pack. “I would have liked a better result, so there is some disappointment now but also relief as I could finish another Tour de France.”

Goldstein spoke more succinctly and playfully at the finish line. “It was the hardest and most enjoyable race of my life. What do I want now? To rest, and leave the bike … ”

This year’s Israel Start-Up Nation consisted of Guillaume Boivin, Chris Froome, Omer Goldstein, André Greipel, Reto Hollenstein, Dan Martin, Michael Woods and Rick Zabel.

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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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