Israeli cycling received a boost this week with the official announcement that the 2018 Giro d’Italia will start in Jerusalem. This, the 101st edition, is the first of the three Grand Tours to start outside Europe.
“The Giro will mean the world to Israel,” said Zadok Yecheskell of the Israel Cycling Academy. “It’s the biggest sports event in Israel’s history. It’s a huge chance to showcase Israel to the world. It is something we have worked for since 2015.”
Shani Bloch-Davidov, Israel’s first Olympic cyclist and top woman professional, said: “I’m very happy for the progress made by the Israeli cycling sport. Launching the 2018 Giro in Jerusalem is a great way to promote Israel as a country, the Israeli professional cycling sport and the Israeli cyclists to the world and locally.”
She added: “This will surely open the door for more Israelis to be legitimised by international teams. I’m looking forward for welcoming all these athletes in Israel.”
Details of the race route were revealed on Monday in the official ceremony in Jerusalem by Italian and Israeli ministers together with the greatest Spanish rider Alberto Contador, twice winner of the Giro and the Tour de France and Italian Ivan Basso, also twice a Giro winner.
After a 10.1-kilometre opening time trial in the Old City, the 167-kilometre second stage will go down the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv.
The third stage will follow a lengthy 226-kilometre route from Beersheba in the Negev desert down to Israel's southern tip of Eilat along the Red Sea.
More than 175 of the world's leading cyclists will compete in the race.
"Every year the Giro tells the stories of places of great interest," Giro director Mauro Vegni said. "The territories crossed by the stages in Israel will show to the world tradition, culture and beautiful landscape."
Basso said: "Every year the Giro introduces new things, which makes it unique. Next year, starting from the world's most spiritual city will make the Giro even more special."
Viewed by hundreds of millions across the globe, it will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Israel and is expected to draw tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts. The race will finish in Rome on May 27, two religious capitals book-ending the race.
Italian Sport Minister Luca Lotti said the "start from Jerusalem is a metaphorical bridge between our two lands, made up of history, culture and traditions".
The Israeli government will take charge of a security and logistics operation on a par with those required during visits of heads of state. Funding will also come from Israel, which is pushing hard to grow its tourism sector. The estimated cost is around £10 million, with about 40 per cent being paid for the hosting rights.
In the past four years, guided by its President Dr Yoni Yarom and CEO Yaron Dor, the Israel Cycling Federation (ICF) has developed the sport at all levels and across different disciplines.
At the end of 2016 its budget was €1.1 million and the country hosts 12 UCI calendar races. Israel's first velodrome is set to open at the Tel Aviv Olympic Sports Complex in 2018, thanks to a donation from Margaret and Sylvan Adams and from the Tel Aviv foundation.
Funding for Israel’s first BMX tracks is being sought and a strategy is being developed to introduce and popularise both track and BMX.