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'Israel Start-Up Nation' team makes its Tour debut on Sunday

Waiting for Froome, Israel cycling team will use Tour de France to fly flag

‘My dream of a lifetime has now been realized,’ says team’s Guy Niv; owner Sylvan Adams says his main goal isn’t to win but to develop the sport in Israel, change country’s image

Members of the Israel Cycling Academy team train near Kibbutz Beit Guvrin on May 1, 2018, a few days before the start of the Giro d'Italia cycling race. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Members of the Israel Cycling Academy team train near Kibbutz Beit Guvrin on May 1, 2018, a few days before the start of the Giro d'Italia cycling race. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

PARIS, France — For Tour de France newcomers Israel Start-Up Nation, this year’s race is a chance to send a message before Chris Froome arrives next season as part of a plan to turn them into contenders.

Owner Sylvan Adams wants his team to fly the Israeli flag. Their duds are in the national colors of blue and white with “Israel” and a Star of David across the chest.

When the cycling race starts in Nice on Sunday, their patchwork team will include the first Israeli to ride the Tour, Guy Niv.

“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.”

Guy Niv in action (Noa Arnon, via JTA)

In a VeloNews podcast, Adams told former Tour cyclist Bobby Julich that he has two goals for his team.

“The first goal is to develop cycling in Israel,” he said. “The second goal is to introduce the world to the Israel that I know and love.”

Last season, Israel Start-Up Nation was on the second-tier Continental tour, known as Pro-Conti.

They only secured a place on the World Tour when they bought the license of the failing Katusha team for $1 the day before the October 1, 2019, deadline.

Even though they inherited a handful of Katusha riders and signed 38-year-old German sprinter Andre Greipel and 34-year-old Anglo-Irish veteran Dan Martin, Adams is pragmatic.

“We have a Pro-Conti budget and Pro-Conti roster,” Adams told VeloNews. “We don’t really have a general classification candidate. We have some horses, and could possibly steal a stage.”

That will change when four-time winner Froome, who turns 36 next May, joins.

“The opportunity to sign Chris came up when he decided that maybe the Ineos structure of multiple leaders wasn’t how he wanted to race,” Adams said. “He wanted to participate in decision making but Ineos is a top-down situation. Instead of being a corporate structure, we’re really a family.”

‘We’ll be a real threat’

Adams is recruiting a strong group of supporting riders for next season, including South African Daryl Impey and Michael Woods who will be the fourth Canadian in the squad.

British cyclist Chris Froome in action during time trials at the start of 2018 Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race in Jerusalem, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

“If we’re going to invest in Chris, we have to build around him,” said Adams. “We’ll be a real threat to win the Tour.”

For Adams winning races is the third goal.

“Winners get all the attention. They’ll notice us a lot more if Chris Froome wins the Tour de France.”

The 62-year-old Adams ran his family’s property company in his native Canada, emigrated to Israel in 2015 and proclaimed himself “self-appointed ambassador-at-large for Israel” adding that because he awarded himself the title, “I can’t be reassigned or fired.”

Adams began competitive cycling as an adult and won two world masters titles and Canadian and Israeli masters titles.

Israeli-Canadian billionaire cyclist and businessman Sylvan Adams rides a bike with members of his team Start-Up Nation at his velodrome in Tel Aviv on June 5, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)

He took over the recently former Israel Cycling Academy team, the basis for Start-Up Nation, in 2015 and paid to bring the start of the 2018 Giro d’Italia to Israel. The fee “was too high, frankly,” he said. But he made sure his team was invited.

“It was my party,” he said. “During those three days we had more than one million fans come onto the street, watch this race and cheer on my team. The major sports are soccer and basketball and we’re terrible at soccer.”

It also drew a global television audience, which is part of his soft-power strategy.

Eros Capecchi of Italy in action during time trials at the opening of Giro d’Italia, Tour of Italy, cycling race in Jerusalem, Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“I’m trying to address a very large audience,” he told AFP. “I don’t try to convince one person at a time because it takes too long and I’m too old.”

The Tour start list also includes the more established national representatives: Bahrain-McLaren, UAE Team Emirates and Astana, the former name of the Kazakhstan capital.

Adams rejects suggestion that he is “sportwashing.”

“You wouldn’t accuse any other country of ‘washing’ every time they engage with the world,” he said, adding that he intends to keep going, “unless peace breaks out everywhere in the world and we’re totally accepted and loved.”

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