Israelis might not understand professional cycling, but they definitely get “quirky,” and the locals did not disappoint.
Millions of TV viewers abroad watching the the “Big Start Israel” section of the prestigious Giro D’Italia cycling race were treated to classic antics by Israeli fans.
The first three stages of the 21-day race were held in Israel — the first time the race has started outside of Europe — over the weekend, including a 10-kilometer urban time trial in Jerusalem on Friday, a dash down the coastal plain on Saturday from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and a long ride through the desert, from Beersheba to Eilat, on Sunday.
TV viewers watching the Stage 2 race from Haifa to Tel Aviv were treated to the interesting spectacle of two pink bodysuits riding a unique tandem push-me-pull-you bike that managed to keep ahead of the peloton for almost a minute.
There were also uniquely Israeli moments to the stage through the iconic Negev desert, with hoards of camels congregating at the side of the road, as riders pedaled through the stark desert scenery.
One commentator pointed out on Twitter that it was probably the first time a camel had made an appearance in the Grand Tour of cycling (which also includes the Tour de France and the Vuelta de Espana).
Here's a grab of the real camels from earlier in today's stage on @Eurosport_UK. Can anyone remember seeing camels before on a Grand Tour?
— Felix Lowe (@saddleblaze) May 6, 2018
At one point, Eurosport’s British commentator Carlton Kirby warned people “not to get distracted by the rubble on the side of the road,” as a number of teenage girls lifted their shirts to encourage the riders during a long stretch in the middle of the desert.
Kirby also panned an Israeli police officer, who almost got clipped by a passing rider for “being over at the icebox getting a Magnum,” the popular Israeli ice cream popsicle.
"Oh my goodness… he'd been over at the ice box getting himself a magnum!" ????????
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) May 6, 2018
Some of the revelers were less welcomed. Police on Saturday arrested one of the organizers of a weekly demonstration against government corruption, after he tried to hang a sign protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along the race route in Tel Aviv.
Yishai Hadas was detained while carrying a sign reading “Crime Minister.” Police said he was held because he planned to interfere with the race, but Hadas’s lawyer told Israel Radio that police detained him to avoid any embarrassment to the prime minister during the race, and charged that the arrest was a violation of his client’s free speech.
— Felix Lowe (@saddleblaze) May 6, 2018
Some cyclists said they were surprised by the Israeli fans, since the country has no tradition of cycling or cheering on road races. In a press conference following Stage 3, current race leader Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) said that the crowd “took to the race very well, it is almost as if they were a really big cycling country.”
In Europe, the races draw millions of spectators lining the entire course. Over a million spectators came out for the Big Start in Holland two years ago. Israel’s cheering section was much more sparse and spread out. But we had camels.
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