Israel has hosted a number of amazing events over the years, but nothing compares to the Giro D’Italia that began its 101 Race in Jerusalem just a couple of weeks ago. A bike race you say? Yes a bike race. This is truly Zionism through Sports.
It certainly sounds odd. How can a bicycle race around the Holy Land have any type of impact on the world view of Israel and the sport in general? Well, it has in many ways more than one. I admit, I was suspect, but I along with the millions not only in Israel but around the world caught the bug. The cycling bug.
Let me explain. The Giro is broadcasted on over thirty television networks (including 25 live) in 200 countries, generating – through thousands of hours of TV images (filmed with dozens of cameras, 5 filming motorcycles and two helicopters) – an overall global audience of nearly a billion viewers. Can you name another sporting event that has that much coverage?
Now that we’ve gotten the facts down let’s look at the nuts and bolts with the help of Dani Porath, the cycling expert at Israel’s Sports Channel, Sport 5 who is broadcasting the race throughout the month of May which ends on Sunday May 27th.
“The Giro is a mix of things – There is the Israel Cycling Academy which is the country’s first professional team and was founded in 2014. The goal when it was created was that Israel could send a team to the Tour de France. It may have sounded odd at the time but here we are today at the Giro D’Italia.”
Porath continued on, “The team’s visionary and founder was Ron Baron who himself was a former cyclist. They began in the third tier of Cycling and they had a vision. They were able to bring the right people into the team and kept to their mission.”
The mission of course was a big one and a couple of years ago they found the right man to help take the Israel Cycling Academy and cycling in Israel to the next level Porath explained, “Sylvan Adams, from Montreal, Canada came on board and together with his funding and connections was able to bring the Giro, a world class event to Israel.”
Why was having the Giro in Israel so important to Adams? “He loves cycling and he loves the country. His belief was that millions and millions of people from around the world would be able to see Israel over the course of a few days thanks to the Giro in a totally different way than they have ever seen the country before. Add to that the crowds and the sights and you can see an incredibly beautiful picture of Israel. Adams wanted to show Israel in the most positive light possible and thought that this could be done through the means of the Giro.”
In essence the beauty of Israel is being shown across the globe through the means of cycling. From the city of Jerusalem, to the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the allure of the Ramon Crater and the Negev Desert, the breadth of the country is on display for millions and millions to see.
Porath continued to explain the importance of the Israel Cycling Academy and how it has already begun to bear fruits across the country, “There are teams who compete on the world tour as well as the second and third tier. But I think it will have an impact as a growing sport in Israel once we move beyond one academy which is what we have at the moment. The plan is to add more academies across the country and to begin implementing an education program for students as well.”
General Manager Ran Margaliot also commented about the potential impact that can be made by the Giro, “The concept was to use this beautiful platform, these great athletes, this amazing opportunity from the media, and this special edition of the Giro to inspire an entire generation of new cyclists.”
Of course to take the next step and a leap forward, Porath says the key lies in building the foundation for the future, “We need more teams. The main issue is that this team should help develop cycling in the country by building more academies in Israel. That way Israeli cycling can continue to improve and reach more people which will then not only help develop professional riders but also attract more professionals to the country in the sport as well.”
Guy Sagiv one of the two Israeli riders on the team spoke about the impact the Giro could have on the country down the road, “For every kid who rides, the dream is first to become a pro cyclist, then the next dream is to take part in a Grand Tour, and that really excites me, especially when it’s here in Israel, so it’s triple excitement for me. Growing up in Israel there was no specific team to dream of, but now for kids in Israel they have this team to aspire to.”