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Israel cycling team wins first-ever Grand Tour stage in Italy

Alex Dowsett of Israel Start-up Nation team clinches victory in eighth stage of Giro d’Italia, but positive coronavirus test by fellow Brit puts future of race on edge

Team Israel Start-Up Nation rider England's Alex Dowsett celebrates as he crosses the line for victory during the 8th stage of the Giro d'Italia 2020 cycling race, a 200-kilometer route between Giovinazzo and Vieste on October 10, 2020. (Luca Bettini / AFP)
Team Israel Start-Up Nation rider England's Alex Dowsett celebrates as he crosses the line for victory during the 8th stage of the Giro d'Italia 2020 cycling race, a 200-kilometer route between Giovinazzo and Vieste on October 10, 2020. (Luca Bettini / AFP)

Alex Dowsett soloed to victory in the Giro d’Italia eighth stage on Saturday to give his Israel Start-up Nation team a first win in the prestigious bike race.

But the win was overshadowed by a positive coronavirus test from fellow Briton Simon Yates hours earlier, which has left the race on edge.

Nearing the end of the 200 kilometer stage from Giovinazzo in Puglia to Vieste, Dowsett produced a powerful finish to cross the line alone more than a minute ahead of Italian Salvatore Puccio of Ineos and Briton Matthew Holmes of WorldTeam Lotto.

Dowsett shook off his five breakaway companions with 20 kilometers to go, with the former world Hour Record holder finishing as in a time trial.

Teammate Mathias Brandle finished the stage in fifth place.

The victory is the first time a rider for the Israeli team has won a stage in one of the three Grand Tour races.

The win marks a major milestone for the team, which was founded five years ago and last month saw an Israeli rider finish the Tour de France for the first time.

The team, meant to sell Israelis on cycling and to sell Israel to the world, is hoping to boost its presence on the global stage with the addition next year of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

“This historic moment will actualize our biggest goal: to inspire the next generation of young Israelis to take on this beautiful sport,” said team co-owner Ron Baron after Dowsett crossed the line.

Team Israel Start-Up Nation rider England’s Alex Dowsett, wearing a face mask, celebrates with a bottle of champagne on the podium after winning the 8th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2020 cycling race, a 200-kilometer route between Giovinazzo and Vieste, on October 10, 2020. (Luca Bettini/AFP)

Dowsett, 32, claimed his second Giro stage win, seven years after his first.

“I can’t say how much I needed a win like this in such a difficult year,” he said.

“Since Israel Start-Up Nation stepped up to the WorldTour, we’ve been fighting for this victory.”

He added: “I don’t have a contract yet for next year and with a baby coming in January, I really needed such a result so badly, I cannot believe it.”

Deceuninck’s Joao Almeida, currently first in the overall standings, finished 17th, nearly 14 minutes behind Dowsett to lead Spaniard Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) and Dutch rider Wilco Keldermann of Team Sunweb going into Sunday’s ninth stage over 208 kilometers from San Salvo to Roccaraso.

“Tomorrow will be a crucial day for the defense of the Maglia Rosa,” said Almeida. “My whole team has worked so hard for this jersey up to now, we won’t let it go.”

The mountainous stage in Abruzzo finishes at altitude with a final climb of 9.6 kilometers.

But Yates pulling out after a positive coronavirus test has led to questions about athlete safety.

Yates, 28, withdrew before the start of the stage after becoming the first rider to test positive for Covid-19 at a Grand Tour.

The Mitchelton-Scott team leader, who won the Vuelta in 2018, was 21st in the standings ahead of Saturday’s stage with overall victory still potentially within his grasp.

“Simon’s health remains our main concern and, thankfully, his symptoms remain very mild and he is otherwise in good health,” team doctor Matteo Beltemacchi said.

Yates tested positive after developing a slight fever on Friday, and a second test confirmed the positive result.

But questions remain about how he caught the virus and whether he passed it on to others as his teammates were all cleared to continue the race.

“Yates is the first case after ten days,” said Giro race director Mauro Vegni.

“This means that the ‘bubble’ at the Giro held up very well, quick checks allowed us to promptly ascertain Yates’ positivity.”

Vegni said that riders from a dozen teams would now undergo fresh swabs on Sunday with the first rest day on Monday.

“On Monday morning, thanks to a reinforced team, we will complete the samples and send them to Milan,” he said.

“We will wait for the results before the start of the stage on Tuesday and on Wednesday we will carry out new checks on everyone.”

But the future of the three-week Giro remains linked to the outcome of the next round of tests.

“We all want to get to Milan, only a possible intervention by the authorities could stop us,” added Vegni of the race finish on October 25.

Yates retirement after fellow Briton Geraint Thomas and Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez has now deprived the race of three top contenders.

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