Team Israel-Premier Tech: What to expect at this year's Tour de France

Israel-Premier Tech look to reproduce winning effort of last year’s tour, but without the ageing Froome


Winning your first-ever stage of the Tour de France is a big deal for a cycling team. Winning your first two within a fortnight is the sort of thing most can only dream of. But that’s what happened to Israel - Premier Tech last year and having found a taste for victory, the team only wants more in 2023.

Israel-Premier Tech, one of cycling's newest teams, made headlines in 2020 with the signing of Chris Froome, one of Britain's most successful cyclists. Froome, now 38, is a noticeable absence from this year's final squad as they set up for the start of cycling's biggest event.

According to the team’s owner, Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams, the national identity is the whole point.

“I want the Jewish world to take pride in the only Jewish professional sports team,” the 63-year-old told the JC. “It is the only team in the history of Israel to compete at the highest level of its sport.”

Australian rider Simon Clarke won the team’s first stage last year and is confident Team Israel can compete at the highest levels of the tour.

“To be better than last year is going to be difficult but I'm definitely here to try and make it as good as last year, and definitely chase a stage win,” said Clarke in Bilbao before the race’s start.

Clarke took his victory on a perilous day out in Roubaix across the cobbled farm tracks of northern France before his French-Canadian teammate Hugo Houle doubled on the team’s spoils on the sweltering mid-heatwave tarmac of Carcassonne, marking a high water mark the team are eager to surpass.

After this year’s Grand Départ in Bilbao, where the famously rowdy Basque fans will surround the course with flares, the race transitions east across France’s midriff. A visit to the Puy de Dôme is a highlight, the stage ending on the lava dome of one of the youngest volcanoes in the Chaîne des Puys region in France’s centre before a jaunt across the Alps and then on to Paris for the crucial final stages.

For any team or cyclist, the next best thing to winning the yellow jersey is to win as many of the tour's 21 stages as possible.

Team Israel's eight-man squad is led by four experienced veterans. Clarke and Houle, both searching for another stage win, as well as the wily Belgian Dylan Teuns and Michael Woods a Canadian former runner who only turned to cycling when he was 27 and is the first human to both break the four-minute mile and race the Tour de France.

The biggest omission on the team’s roster is the four-time winner Chris Froome. The Brit is the team’s marquee name, a statement of intent when they acquired him from Team Ineos in 2021, but is now a 38-year-old struggling to regain the form of his prime as the sands of professional sporting time slip through his fingers. Cycling is a cruel sport and the Tour de France dictates that only the strong prevail.

“It's quite easy,” explained Israel - Premier Tech sports director Rik Verbrugghe, a classic Belgian with little room for sentimentality, when asked about the non-selection of Froome. “We select eight strong riders who really want to hunt for stages. When we make the selection we choose the guys with the best legs for the Tour de France.”

At this year’s race, the team will be wearing a special jersey to promote Israel’s national hiking trail, with the route emblazoned on their jerseys acting as lycra-clad billboards aimed at boosting Israeli tourism.

The 637-mile hiking trail crosses the entire length of the country from Kibbutz Dan near Lebanon in the north to Eilat on the Red Sea in the south. The white, blue and orange stripes of the kit represent the colours of the National Trail’s markings.

For the first time since the team’s Tour debut in 2020, there won’t be an Israeli rider as part of the squad. In the past, Guy Niv and Omer Goldstein have taken it in turn to represent homegrown riders in France, but this year the team has made the decision to focus purely on performance and let that inspire Israeli children to start riding.

“I believe in my chance,” Houle said, “Everyone is good, everyone is strong. You need some luck but I'm confident I've done the work to be at the level.”

“It's not the goal to win two stages,” Verbrugghe continued. “The goal is to race on the offensive and try every single stage to have an objective and a chance to win. Every day we'll try and make it attractive racing at the Tour de France.”

Music to the ears of Tour purists, who want riders who race with their hearts, eschewing the modern practicalities of professional sport.

Elsewhere in the race, the two-time winner, Slovenian Tadej Pogačar, seeks revenge on the Dutch super-team of Jumbo-Visma and their defending champion, Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard, in what is an expected battle royale.

Amidst the building excitement, a gloom also hangs over the race start. Gino Mäder, a Swiss 26-year-old professional cyclist on another team, crashed last month at a race in Switzerland, falling off the mountainside, and sadly dying from his injuries.

Teuns was a former teammate of Mäder and used to share a room with him when away at races.

“It's not easy,” Teuns said of having Mäder on his mind. “Maybe you have to think about him in a positive way, not what happened in Switzerland, because that can be a bit difficult. Thinking of the good memories I had with him and also his last days we had a lot of fun talking together. So I will remember that.”

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