The 107th edition of the Tour de France got underway on the French Riviera on Saturday, two months later than planned and under the shadow of a coronavirus pandemic which could still shatter hopes of the world’s greatest bike race making it to the Paris finish line in three weeks’ time.
“I am honored and privileged to represent my country and team in the biggest race in cycling,” the 26-year-old Niv said in a team press release. “And to be the first Israeli to do so? It might sound cliche, but my dream of a lifetime has now been realized.”
Niv is a devoted mountain cyclist and only took up road racing three years ago under the tutelage of the Israel Cycling Academy. The academy co-founder Ron Baron said in a team statement, “When we founded the team five years ago, we dreamed of this moment. But we strive for more than just the glory of racing in the Tour de France. We want every kid in Israel to say, ‘I can be Guy Niv one day. I can get to the Tour.'”
Niv is the only Israeli on the team, which also includes Ireland’s Dan Martin, André Greipel and Nils Politt from Germany, Ben Hermans and Tom Van Asbroeck from Belgium, France’s Hugo Hofstetter and Latvian cyclist Krists Neilands.
Originally slated for June, stage one of the three-week epic race over the peaks and plains of France embarked from Nice with its iconic Promenade des Anglais for a 154km loop likely to end in the kind of mass bunch sprint which is tailor-made for a global TV audience tuning in from 190 countries.
However, coronavirus still has the race in its grip.
On Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex put Nice on a COVID-19 “red zone” list with tightened health protocols.
And race director Christian Prudhomme said Saturday that the rule of expelling teams from the Tour with two riders testing positive had been tightened to two positives from the whole entourage, including mechanics, cooks, and drivers along with riders.
The Belgian team Lotto has already sent home four of its staff after one positive test and one “suspicious” result.
Conspicuously absent from the race was four-time winner Chris Froome, who was axed from the Ineos team following under-par performances at preparation races after the season resumed in early August.
The British cyclist has signed a long-term contract with Israel Start-Up Nation that is expected to take him to the end of his professional cycling career.
Froome, 35, first won the Tour de France in 2013. He dominated cycling’s leading race for three years starting in 2015, in the colors of Team Sky, which became Team Ineos last year.
Israel Start-Up Nation announced earlier this month that Canadian cyclist Michael Woods will also join the outfit next season to support Froome.
Woods, 33, who won a bronze medal at the world championships in 2018, has signed a three-year deal, the team said.
Tour stage winners Daryl Impey and Patrick Bevan, as well as Norwegian rider Carl Fredrik Hagen, have also been signed by the Israeli side, which has been promoted to the top-tier World Tour.