Cyclists ready for desert sprint as Giro d’Italia races into final Israel stage
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Cyclists ready for desert sprint as Giro d’Italia races into final Israel stage

Residents of Israel’s south expected to come out to cheer riders before they transfer to Italy to conclude major bike contest

Cyclists ride during the second stage at the Giro d'Italia near Beit Yanai on May 5, 2018. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
Cyclists ride during the second stage at the Giro d'Italia near Beit Yanai on May 5, 2018. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

The Giro d’Italia bike race is set to enter its final stage in Israel Sunday with a 226-kilometer sprint through the desert from the city of Beersheba down to the port city of Eilat.

The Sunday race, which kicks off at 12:30, follows a Friday time trial in Jerusalem and a dash down the coastal plain on Saturday that marked the first time a major European bike contest was held outside of the Continent.

Residents of the southern region of the country are expected to come out to cheer the cyclists on Sunday, though the number of spectators may be impacted by the start of the working week. Tens of thousands lined streets in Jerusalem and a string of cities on the coastline for the first two stages of the race.

Commuters and residents are braced for traffic jams and disruption with Zalman Shazar Street closed in Beersheba, and sections of Route 40 and Route 90, both main highways traversing the desert region, closed throughout the day. In the Red Sea city of Eilat, Durban and Kamen streets will be closed for the concluding race through the holiday resort city.

A police spokesman said Sunday that 4,000 officers are involved in the operation to secure the three-day event, with teams of officers working alongside special patrol units and border police.

A cyclist in action during time trials at the opening of Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy, cycling race in Jerusalem, Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

After two days of unseasonably hot temperatures, the heatwave which blanketed the country over the past few days finally broke Saturday night, although temperatures are still expected to reach around 35 degrees Celsius (around 95 Fahrenheit) in the desert on Sunday.

At the conclusion of Sunday’s stage, nearly 1,000 people and three cargo planes of equipment will transfer to Sicily for a rest day before continuing through Italy and ending in Rome on May 27.

Italian rider Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) wins Stage 2 of the Giro D’Italia in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. (courtesy Giro)

Thousands of enthusiastic Israelis lined the coastal route on Saturday as cyclists passed landmarks such as the ancient cities of Acre and Caesarea before ending the race in a carnival of pink in Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore park.

Elia Viviani won Saturday’s second stage in less than four hours, nudging past Italian countryman Jakub Mareczko in a bunch sprint finish, but Rohan Dennis, team leader of BMC Racing, took a one-second lead over Dumoulin overall by winning the leg’s second intermediate sprint. Victor Campenaerts of Belgium remained in third place.

Italy’s Elia Viviani celebrates on the podium after winning the 2nd stage of the 101st Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy, on May 5, 2018, 167 kilometers between Haifa and Tel Aviv. (AFP PHOTO / LUK BENIES)

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.

For Israel, hosting the event marked a major coup, with organizers hoping to draw tens of thousands of tourists and looking for a chance to showcase its people and landscape to a global television audience.

The largest and most complex sporting event in Israel’s history, the three stages of the Giro d’Italia will cost more than NIS 120 million ($33 million).

Adams told the Associated Press news agency that his aim for the race 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.

Teams from Bahrain and the UAE have sent teams to compete despite not having official diplomatic relations with Israel, and have enthusiastically tweeted about their presence. However, neither team has competitors who are citizens of either country and spokespeople have refused to answer questions about politics.

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