Organizers hope Giro D’Italia gets more Israelis pedaling

Ahead of massive bicycle race, sport minister says state plans to invest NIS 16 million in bike infrastructure

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a helmet while riding a bicycle in a video released on April 25, 2018, ahead of the Giro D’Italia cycle race to be held in Israel in May. (Screen capture: Twitter video)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a helmet while riding a bicycle in a video released on April 25, 2018, ahead of the Giro D’Italia cycle race to be held in Israel in May. (Screen capture: Twitter video)

Israel will be coming full circle after 2,000 years at the start of the Giro D’Italia cycling race on May 4-6, said Ze’ev Elkin, the minister of Jerusalem and heritage, on Wednesday at a press conference kicking off the Giro race.

From the Roman crusaders sacking Jerusalem in 70 CE to 176 professionals streaking down the streets of the capital in an Italian race on Friday in 2018, “we are completing a circle we never could have dreamed about 2,000 years ago,” he said.

The Giro D’Italia is the second-most prestigious road cycling race after the Tour de France, and many people involved in the race are hoping that the excitement surrounding it gets more Israelis onto their bikes.

The first three days of the 21-day race will take place in Israel, the first time the race’s start will take place outside of Europe.

The first three race stages consist of a 10-kilometer time trial in Jerusalem, a 167-kilometer race from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and a 226-kilometer race from Beersheba to Eilat. Afterwards, the 176 riders from 22 teams will fly to Italy to ride the remaining 18 stages of the race, finishing in Rome.

The event is the single most expensive sporting event in the country’s history, said Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. “Israel is showing that it is not just about cyber and high-tech but also joining the international arena in sport,” she said on Wednesday.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (left), Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (on bicycle in middle) and Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev, with Giro d’Italia organizers and winners celebrating the announcement of the 2018 Giro d’Italia bike race, whose ‘Big Start’ will take place in Israel in May 2018 (Courtesy ‘Big Start’)

The three-day cycling race costs an estimated NIS 120 million. Various ministries, including the Tourism Ministry and Transportation Ministry, provided approximately NIS 30 million ($8.4 million) for the race, the most that the state has ever invested in a single sporting event, said Regev. Billionaire Canadian real estate mogul Sylvan Adams, who moved to Israel two years ago and is the event’s driving force, financed most of the rest of the cost of the event on his own.

“Sylvan visited Pope [Francis] and gave him a letter from Netanyahu, and got his blessing for the route to go from Jerusalem to Rome,” said Regev. “We are asking everyone, from the grandparents to the kids, to come cheer the riders on. This is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The logistics surrounding the program are immense, from the media’s 600 international journalists and 70 TV crews — with 25 cameras broadcasting live feeds during the races — to the 1,200 technical staff assisting the teams and 4,000 police officers providing security and logistics along the routes.

Major highways and roads will be closed during the race. Residents are encouraged to check the Giro D’Italia official site for road closure updates or call the police information line at 110.

Adam said it is his “proudest moment in Israel” to see the Giro get off the ground. The purpose of bringing the Giro’s start to Israel was twofold, he said: to introduce Israel’s culture and geography to the world, and to encourage the growth of a local cycling culture.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai (left) and Giro D’Italia Big Start Israel honorary president Sylvan Adams at the Tel Aviv velodrome dedication on May 1, 2018. (courtesy Guy Yehiel/Tel Aviv Municipality)

Last year, 840 million people watched some portion of the Giro D’Italia on TV, and this year the number is expected to be a billion, according to Danny Benaim, CEO of Comtec Group, which is the production company in charge of the Big Start Israel and has overseen other major sporting events in Israel. In contrast, the Super Bowl had 114 million viewers.

On Tuesday, Tel Aviv dedicated the Sylvan Adams National Velodrome, a NIS 70 million indoor cycling track financed mostly by Adams. Adams said that while he loves the sport of cycling, he also hopes to encourage non-professional cycling in Israel.

“In 1950s, Amsterdam had no cycling infrastructure, but they made a decision that they wanted to encourage people to use bikes for commuting,” said Adams. “Tel Aviv has tried to create a cycling path infrastructure that is safe, and I have helped with that.” Adams said he is trying to push a plan of bike paths connecting municipalities outside of Tel Aviv such as Bat Yam, Petah Tikvah, and Holon. “Commuters can leave their car at home, get to their destination faster and be healthier, and decongest our roads,” he said.

“We hope Israel makes a decision to invest in the sport of cycling both professionally and for regular riders.”

Regev said the Culture and Sport Ministry plans to invest NIS 16 million in bike paths and improving bike infrastructure across the country in the coming years, though she acknowledged Israel still has a ways to go toward making cyclists feel safe. Individual municipalities, in both the center and the periphery, can also apply for grants from the ministry to build bike paths.

Members of the Israel Cycling Academy, which received one of the Giro d’Italia wild cards to participate in the May 4, 2018, race in Israel (Courtesy Noa Arnon)

“We put a lot of money on this to encourage more and more people to use bikes, not just to avoid traffic but also to ride for fun and health,” she said.

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