Central Jerusalem shuttered in run-up to world-famous cycling race

Central Jerusalem shuttered in run-up to world-famous cycling race

As the international Giro d’Italia begins in Israel’s capital, many areas grind to a halt amid heavy security and road closures

The teams presentation of the 101st Giro d'Italia in Jerusalem on May 3, 2018, ahead of the opening of the competition on Friday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The teams presentation of the 101st Giro d'Italia in Jerusalem on May 3, 2018, ahead of the opening of the competition on Friday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the world’s best bike riders make their final preparations in Jerusalem Friday for the start of the Giro d’Italia cycling race, locals were under a security siege due to road closures and the deployment of thousands of police along the route.

Although residents of the nation’s capital are used to traffic disruptions from visiting dignitaries or sporting events, the international cycle race, beginning in the afternoon and slated to finish shortly before the beginning of the Sabbath, was causing more headaches than usual.

The route, running from just outside the Old City, cutting through the city center almost to the central bus station at the entrance to the city, leaves many residents enclosed within the circuit and cuts across the city’s main public transit route, leaving many Jerusalemites without any easy way to leave their neighborhoods by vehicle — and in some areas of heightened security, even by foot.

The entire route was closed from 9 a.m. with only a few places left open for pedestrians to cross. From 12:30 until the completion of the race, soon after 5 p.m. the entire route was completely closed.

The race begins at Mamilla, outside the Old City, and heads up along the historic King David Street, along the Keren Hayesod mainfare, through the Rehavia neighborhood to the tree-lined Sacher Park, almost to the Central Bus Station, then heads down Bezalel Road and King George Street back to Mamilla.

The full list of streets closed due to the race is:

Yitzhak Kariv, Shlomo HaMelech, Derech Beit Lehem, Meir v’Mikhael Segen Cohen, Yitzchak Elhanan, Shalom Aleichem, Keren Hayesod, Ramban, Derech Ruppin, Shmuel Stephen Wise, HaMoze’onim Boulevard , Eliezer Kaplan, Yoel Hason, Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard from the intersection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Cinema City, Betzalel, Shmuel HaNagid, Gershon Agron, Emile Botta and Eliyahu Shama.

Fabio Sabatini will be the first rider to begin the race at 1:50 p.m., while title defender Tom Dumoulin is the last one to set out at 4:45 p.m. Police said the roads will not be opened until 5:30 p.m., just over an hour before the Sabbath begins in the capital.

Route of the Jerusalem leg of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race, held on May 4, 2018. (Screen capture: Giro d’Italia website)

The time trials for the world-famous bike race up and down the capital’s hilly streets will mark the first time a cycling Grand Tour will ever be held outside Europe. It is being touted as the largest sporting event ever hosted by the Jewish state.

A total of 176 cyclists from 22 teams, including for the first time an Israeli delegation, will take part in the time trials. The 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) route will take riders near the Old City and some of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, but organizers have been careful to avoid any politically sensitive areas.

For Israel, hosting the event marks a major coup and looks to draw tens of thousands of tourists and a chance to showcase its people and landscape to a global television audience.

The race features four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who is looking to become only the third person ever to win the three Grand Tour titles in a row.

In its 101-year history, the Giro has previously opened a dozen times outside Italy but never outside Europe. Its arrival in Israel is the result of the lobbying efforts of Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli cycling enthusiast who conjured the idea to coincide with Israel’s marking 70 years of independence. He said his aim was twofold: to promote the sport in Israel and to project its “normal” image to the world, rather than the typical association of war and conflict.

“This is a mini-Giro, if you will. In three days we can cover a similar percentage of the country as Italy does in the whole race,” Adams told The Associated Press. “We’ll show the beauty of the country, that Israel is a sporting country and that it is open and free and most importantly safe.”

The United Arab Emirates proudly tweeted about its team’s participation in the race in Israel.

A team from Bahrain is also competing. Neither of those countries have official diplomatic relations with Israel.

After the Jerusalem time trials, the 167-kilometer (104-mile) second stage Saturday will whiz down the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Stage 3 on Sunday will follow a lengthy 229-kilometer (143-mile) route — the second-longest leg of the entire race — from Beersheba in the Negev desert down to Israel’s southern tip of Eilat along the Red Sea.

The race will then transfer to Italy, and the island of Sicily, for an early rest day on May 7.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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