A Turkish cyclist who had been part of the Israeli team taking part in the Giro d’Italia was forced to withdraw from the team several months ago following death threats, Channel 10 reported Friday.
Ahmet Örken was part of the Israel Cycling Academy, but left the team in December after he and his family received death threats following US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Trump’s move and subsequent decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, welcomed by Israel, sparked widespread opposition in the Muslim world. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Thousands lined the streets of Jerusalem on Friday for the first stage of the 21-day Giro d’Italia road race, after which the race will return to Italy and end in Rome.
A total of 176 cyclists from 22 teams, including an Israeli delegation for the first time, were taking part in the time trials which began just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) route took riders near some of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, but organizers have been careful to avoid any politically sensitive areas.
There are no Arab cyclists competing in the Giro d’Italia, although there are teams sponsored by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Members of the UAE and Bahrain-Merida team refused to comment on the political situation. According to Giro d’Italia race organizers, no riders or teams pulled out of the race due to pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“We are here for taking part in a sport event, we have no comment on any other issues,” said Andrea Appiani, the communications director for UAE Team Emirates.
Thousands of fans lined the streets of Jerusalem to cheer on the 176 cyclists in the first stage on Friday, as they watched Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb win and don the coveted “Maglia Rosa” pink jersey worn by the race leader.
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. Guy Sagiv, Israel’s time trial champion, was the fastest Israeli, finishing in 162nd place in 13:47. Guy Niv, the other Israeli rider, finished 167th in 13:51.