JTA — When Guy Niv rides his bicycle around a wide curve in the western Galilee on Sunday morning, he’ll be traversing the same roads he did as a kid cycling through the woods with his dad.
Soon afterward, Guy Sagiv will speed down Israel’s Mediterranean coast on his bike — the same roads he used to ride growing up near the scenic town of Zichron Yaakov.
The routes are well known to Niv and Sagiv, but the experience will be new.
On Friday, the two riders, who share not only a first name but a birth year, 1994, became the first Israelis to compete in one of cycling’s three Grand Tour races. Both achieved the feat in Jerusalem when they raced in the first stage of the Giro d’Italia, which is taking place in Israel for the first time. (The other races are the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.)
The 10-kilometer time trial around the Israeli capital was also the first time that the Giro, which takes riders mostly around Italy, opened outside of Europe.
In Friday’s time trial, the fastest rider from the home team Israel Cycling Academy was Belgian rider Ben Hermans, who finished in 108th place with a time of 13:14. Sagiv, Israel’s time trial champion, was the fastest Israeli, finishing in 162nd place in 13:47. Niv finished 167th in 13:51.
On Saturday, the riders will go from the northern port city of Haifa to Tel Aviv, and on Sunday they will ride from Beersheba to the southern tip of Israel at Eilat, before completing the final 18 stages in Italy.
“As a kid, my dream was to become a professional rider, and after I realized that dream, my dream was to make it to a Grand Tour,” Sagiv told JTA. “So the fact that my first Grand Tour is happening here in Israel is the double realization of a dream.”
Niv and Sagiv are both members of the Israel Cycling Academy, which is the country’s first professional cycling team, founded in 2015. Managed by Ran Margaliot, another Israeli cyclist, the team has 24 members, five of whom are Israeli. Eight members of each team make the squad that will race in the Giro. Niv and Sagiv are the only two Israelis to make the final cut; the other six members of the Israeli team racing in the Giro are from Belgium, Canada, Australia, Latvia, Spain and Italy.
“They’re Israeli,” Margaliot told JTA of why he selected them for the team. “We’re an Israeli team, after all. We want to promote Israeli cycling, to show the young generation. They’re a symbol of us, and we’re proud of them.”
Both Guys trace their love of cycling to childhoods riding with their fathers — and to a fierce competitive streak. They each have competed on Israel’s amateur circuit. Sagiv, a road biker from the start, won Israel’s national championship in 2015 and 2017. Niv switched to road biking last year after training as a mountain biker with the Israeli Olympic squad.
Niv says his favorite part of racing is climbing steep slopes. Sagiv prefers the technical aspects of speeding downhill.
“I’m very competitive,” Sagiv said. “I always wanted to win everything I started. When I would ride with my father and his friends, I would always want to be the first one to get to the top of the hill, the peak of the mountain.”
Niv and Sagiv have faced off against each other in past races, but this time they are focused on supporting each other and their teammates through the race of their lives. The two are friends, and would share Shabbat dinners together when their team trained in the Spanish city of Girona.
While both spend all day cycling, Niv says off the bike he enjoys spending time with family and friends, as well as watching Maccabi Haifa, his favorite soccer team. Sagiv says his non-cycling activities are “eating and sleeping,” but he does make time occasionally for another kind of race he likes to watch — Formula One motorsports.
“We don’t have competition between us,” Niv told JTA. “It’s the opposite. We love each other, support each other. We’re team members. We want each other to succeed. It’s great that there’s another Israeli to share this experience.”
Neither Guy expects to win the Giro. They are focused on finishing the grueling 21-stage race next month and doing their country proud.
“I want to stand at the finish line in Rome,” Niv said. “In general, just to finish is not thought of as a great achievement, but here we’re talking about maybe the hardest race in the world.
“We want to break a glass ceiling, that an Israeli rider has never done this. We want to stand on the finish line to show young Israeli riders that it’s possible.”