BIG START – A BIG DEAL (JERUSALEM)
For some, the most high-profile sporting event ever to hit Israel was something of an inconvenience. But only for a few minutes, until the realisation of what we were all seeing. The world’s elite cyclists had come to Israel, who could stand tall, stand proud and puff out it’s chest to proclaim we have arrived as a nation perfectly equipped to host the opening stages of the GDI.
Until the Giro, the Euro U21 Football Championships and Maccabiah Games had been at the top of the ladder in terms of sports events hosted. Well, Israel passed the test with flying colours. Hotels were full, buzzing with excitement and anticipation ahead of the start in Jerusalem. The major investment and vision of Sylvan Adams, and the Ministry of Tourism, saw every shekel well spent. There was a wonderful vibe around Jaffa Gate, and even those initially inconvenienced by the closure of the surrounding streets eventually roared the cyclists on. Indeed they had no other option.
There was a carnival atmosphere around the roads decorated in blue and white, and passionate cheers every time the riders passed.
Time trial winner Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands completed the 9.7km circuit in 1:12.02. He described the roads as “okay, but a bit bumpy and slippery in places”. He said: “It’s alright when you win, but there were times when I had to show caution.
“It’s my dream to be here in Israel. It’s very special to be here in an important city with an important history and culture. The crowds were pretty amazing for a country not so big on cycling.”
Britain’s Chris Froome took a tumbled on the reconnaissance ride a few hours before the main event. He finished the Time Trial in 21st place.
DAY TWO - (HAIFA, ACRE, CAESAREA TO TEL AVIV)
The start in Haifa was a cacophony of noise. But in contrast, Tel Aviv was like, err, Tel Aviv, with the majority of beach-goers dotted across the central coastline areas totally oblivious to the fact the biggest ever sports event was in town. At 5.03pm the British race presenter announced the cyclists had entered Netanya and the crowds started to build up nicely as families made last-minute diversions, away from their apartments and hotels, as temperatures started to drop. The riders crossed the line close to the Dan Panorama, with Elia Viviani the stage winner and Rohan Dennis taking an overall lead.
“The fans were really good,” he commented, “which was a pleasant surprise. Usually it can be quite quiet on the side of the roads but the huge crowds made it nerve-racking. They were clearly proud there was a big race in their country. It was quite a feeling and something special to be part of.”
The spectators were keen to share their experiences. Alon from Tel Aviv remarked: “It’s amazing. I’m so happy the race is here. It was very exciting to see all the big names from the cycling world here in Tel Aviv.”
Vernon, from South Africa, commented: “It was fantastic, a great tourist attraction. To have an event of this stature is morale-boosting for Israel. It’s a fantastic advert for the country.
Liat from Yavneh, near Tel Aviv, enthused: “It’s very exciting to be part of. This is a festival for us. It’s a great adventure for Israel as usually people think we are a country of war. But this is proof we have a good life here. Congratulations to Sylvan Adams who has done something really special. We thank him.”
Alon Ganor from Kiryat Ono has been cycling for two years. A member of the Dynamo Racing club, Ganor, 15, said: “I love the speed of the riders. I started cycling on holiday with my father and one day want to be like Colombian rider Nairo Kintana. I’m very proud they are here.
“It’s fantastic that so many people are interested as cycling is not that popular in Israel. We’re not used to the roads being closed here either.
DAY THREE - (BEER SHEVA TO EILAT)
En route to Beer Sheva we passed Sylvan Adams Velodrome, which is scheduled to open later this year. Israel Cycling Academy’s Guillaume Boivin once again hit the front of the race early on, narrowly missing out on the King of the Mountains blue jersey. The riders were aided by a strong wind and eventually the race was won by Viviani for the second consecutive day.
Having invested an estimated nine million pounds to make the Big Start in Israel a reality, it seems appropriate to give the final word to billionaire bike-lover Sylvan Adams. He is also the man behind Israel’s first velodrome, being built as I write, in Tel Aviv – something he hopes will help foster a new generation of competitive cyclists.
Reflecting on Israel’s involvement in the Giro, Honorary President Adams enthused: “It went flawlessly. I was filled with pride as I saw my countrymen, women and children line the streets to cheer for the racers, especially those from the home team, Israel Cycling Academy.
“The television images of magnificent Israel were breathtaking. The Italian organisers, RCS, were simply in awe of how well it went, including the enormously positive coverage around the world.”
“I thought we reached the pinnacle with the team presentations and gala opening party. But the time trial in Jerusalem was simply magical, as the helicopter footage of this historic and splendid city, lined with cheering fans, took it up to another level.
“Tens of thousands of fans watched the riders depart Samy Ofer Stadium in Jaffa, and then thousands more in Acre, Zichron Yaakov, Caesarea and Netanya before reaching Tel Aviv, where the biggest crowds of all received the riders. This race exceeded my expectations and showed Israelis are the greatest fans in the world. Even the Italians told me that they hadn’t seen crowds and energy like this before.”
The headline in the Hayom newspaper ‘Winning lap’ summed up the mood perfectly, as the riders departed to Italy.
BIG START KEY STATS
* 175 riders
* 22 teams
* There were two Israelis - Guy Sagiv, and Guy Niv - in the Israel Cycling Academy team
SYLVAN ADAMS PROFILE
Who is he? Canadian real-estate billionaire
Lives: Emigrated from Canada to Israel two years ago