The premier cyclists taking part in the 2018 Giro d’Italia — Italy’s prestigious multiple-stage bicycle race — will cover some 400 kilometers around Israel next year, biking through ancient city streets, along beachside roads and on rough desert terrain.
When they hit the Jerusalem streets for the first 10k portion of the race on May 4, they will find that portion to be short but “very hard,” said Mauro Vegni, general director of the 100-year-old race, who was in Jerusalem Monday for a press conference announcing the event.
The first leg of “Big Start Israel,” the opening of the venerable race, will take riders around the Knesset, Supreme Court and Israel Museum, and into the Old City.
“There won’t be a moment to breathe for the riders; they’ll have to show their strength in this race,” said Vegni.
On the second day of the Big Start, Saturday, May 5, competitors will ride 167 kilometers along the coast, through Haifa, Acre, Zichron Yaakov, Caesarea and into Tel Aviv.
Stage 3 will take place on Sunday, May 6, with the competitors riding 226 kilometers from Beersheba to Eilat, with stops in Avdat, the Ramon Crater and Neot Smadar.
That portion is for “fast riders,” said Vegni.
“The start in Jerusalem and Israel offers major benefits for both countries,” he said. “The riders will see places and cities in this country and bring the values of Italy to the world.”
Vegni spoke at the press conference alongside Italian Tourism Minister Luca Lotti; Giro d’Italia past winners Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso; Israel’s Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; and Sylvan Adams, the Montreal real estate mogul and biking enthusiast who helped launch the plan to host the Giro Big Start in Israel.
“It’s our goal to make the Giro more international,” said Vegni. “Israel was nominated and chosen first because of its importance and value it can offer to Giro riders, and what Giro can give to Israel.”
Like the Tour de France and Spain’s Vuelta a Espana, the Giro is a three-week-long event, usually held in late May and early June with routes that change each year, but generally with two time trials, and a passage through the Alps, including the Dolomites. All the stages are timed, and the rider with the lowest aggregate time is the leader of the race and gets to wear the coveted pink jersey.
The portion of the Giro being planned in Israel will feature 176 of the world’s top cyclists.
Regev said the Giro Big Start will be the largest sporting event the country has ever hosted.
Since 2006, the Giro has launched its race every other year with a high-profile Big Start outside Italy. Previous Big Starts have brought Giro riders to the Netherlands, Denmark, Northern Ireland and Belgium.
The race is watched by hundreds of millions of viewers in 194 countries, organizers said.
The Giro’s usual journey through Italian villages, down country roads and into town squares allows the competitors and viewers to get to know various parts of Italy, said Lotti, the Italian tourism minister, “even when the Giro passes through for just a few minutes.”
The 2018 race, its 101st edition, will also be an opportunity to pay tribute to legendary Italian cyclist Gino Bartali, a three-time winner of the Giro. Bartali helped rescue hundreds of Italian Jews during the Holocaust and was recognized by Yad Vashem in 2013 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Sylvan Adams, an amateur biking enthusiast who is the honorary president of Big Start Israel, said hosting the race in Israel would be the culmination of a dream for him, after more than a year of determined effort with the Italian and Israeli governments, as well as the mayors of the cities involved in the race.
“We will start or finish in each of these cities, the five most important of Israel, to realize this out-of-the-box idea to bring the Giro to Israel,” said Adams. “It’s a sporting event that will showcase our country live to hundreds of millions of spectators.”
The only Israeli riders eligible to compete in the Giro are members of the Israel Cycling Academy who have applied to race in the 2018 Giro, what Adams called “a wild card entry.”
Other amateur riders will be able to participate in GFNY Jerusalem, or Gran Fondo New York, a global bike rice that will be held in Jerusalem the week before the Giro.
Holding the start of the Giro outside of Europe is “very good for the world of cycling,” said Alberto Contador, the two-time Giro winner who recently retired from the world of professional bike racing. Contador has been in Israel before, and commented that the roads are very different from those in Europe.
Ivan Basso, another two-time Giro winner, said that biking in a new location offered something different each time.
“This start in Jerusalem is so unique and will turn the Giro into something even more important,” he said.
Both Regev and Levin said they weren’t concerned about anti-Israel boycotters disrupting the race.
“The answer is the event,” said Levin. “The management of Giro believes in Israel and is allowing the event to take place here, the first time they’re doing so outside of Europe. It’s a statement that there are no worries or concerns.”
The Big Start in Israel is a unique opportunity to bring the Giro to Israel, “a country that wants to tell its story,” said Vegni. “We had many meetings with groups and teams and none of them asked why we are going to Israel. There will be difficulties, but of a logistical nature, not political.”