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Cycling Academy camp goes way beyond bikes - Gallery

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Riders learn about Bedouin culture.

Riders learn about Bedouin culture.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Dan Craven finds time to relax

Dan Craven finds time to relax
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Mihkel Raiom and Guy Sagiv say hello from the back of a camel

Mihkel Raiom and Guy Sagiv say hello from the back of a camel
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Team patron Sylvan Adam ejoys the guided tour in Akka along with Dan Craven and Jason Lowndes

Team patron Sylvan Adam ejoys the guided tour in Akka along with Dan Craven and Jason Lowndes
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders take a dip at a spa near Akka

Riders take a dip at a spa near Akka
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Jason Lowndes and Hamish Schreurs get ready for a ride around the Sea of Galilee

Jason Lowndes and Hamish Schreurs get ready for a ride around the Sea of Galilee
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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An outside view of the Church of the Beatitude

An outside view of the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Cycling Academy get ready for a ride around the Sea of Galilee

Cycling Academy get ready for a ride around the Sea of Galilee
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Riders prepare to leave for a ride from the Church of the Beatitude

Riders prepare to leave for a ride from the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Bike are lined up and ready.

Bike are lined up and ready.
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Riders on the bus to another cultural site.

Riders on the bus to another cultural site.
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Inside the Church of the Beatitude

Inside the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Church of the Beatitude sits on a holy site for Christians.

Church of the Beatitude sits on a holy site for Christians.
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Inside the Church of the Beatitude

Inside the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Dennis Van Widen, Jason Lowndes and Zak Dempster enter the Church of the beatitude

Dennis Van Widen, Jason Lowndes and Zak Dempster enter the Church of the beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Riders in the Church of the Beatitude

Riders in the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Zak Dempster checks out some of the art in the Chruch of the Beatitude

Zak Dempster checks out some of the art in the Chruch of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Guillaume Boivin in the Church of the Beatitude

Guillaume Boivin in the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Dennis Van Winden leaves the Church of the Beatitude

Dennis Van Winden leaves the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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Development team rider Ori Leonzini talks with a sight seer at the Church of the Beatitude

Development team rider Ori Leonzini talks with a sight seer at the Church of the Beatitude
(Image credit: Pat Malach)
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The camel ride was a highlight for many riders.

The camel ride was a highlight for many riders.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Sport director Kjell Carlstrom and manager Ran Margaliot

Sport director Kjell Carlstrom and manager Ran Margaliot
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders take a dip at a spa near Akka

Riders take a dip at a spa near Akka
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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An impromptu race gets underway in the spa.

An impromptu race gets underway in the spa.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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The ancient city of Akka was used by the crusaders

The ancient city of Akka was used by the crusaders
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Luis Lemus engages with local children in Akka.

Luis Lemus engages with local children in Akka.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders shop in the bazaar at Akka.

Riders shop in the bazaar at Akka.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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The training camp involved a guided tour of the ancient city of Akka.

The training camp involved a guided tour of the ancient city of Akka.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders eat Arab dinner in Akka.

Riders eat Arab dinner in Akka.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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A tight fit in the sauna before riders visit the ancient city of Akka

A tight fit in the sauna before riders visit the ancient city of Akka
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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There was also time for more off-the-bike training.

There was also time for more off-the-bike training.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders enjoy a fireside evening in a Bedouin village.

Riders enjoy a fireside evening in a Bedouin village.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Riders relax in the desert after training.

Riders relax in the desert after training.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Dennis Van Winden and Luis Lemus on the camel ride.

Dennis Van Winden and Luis Lemus on the camel ride.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Daniel Turek and Guilaume Boivin lead the way on the camel ride.

Daniel Turek and Guilaume Boivin lead the way on the camel ride.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Playing cards are a universal language.

Playing cards are a universal language.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Enjoying a Bedouin beverage

Enjoying a Bedouin beverage
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Dan Craven innovates a bottle opener.

Dan Craven innovates a bottle opener.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)
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Jason Lowndes and Ben Perry drink a beer with teammates in the Bedouin village.

Jason Lowndes and Ben Perry drink a beer with teammates in the Bedouin village.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Cycling Academy)

December training camps often include cross-training and team-building experiences that reach well outside of cycling, but the Cycling Academy riders in Israel over the past 10 days have been combining training for the 2017 season with a daily dose of site-seeing and cultural education about the Middle Eastern country that is rich in history and religious significance for people around the world.

The team visited a Bedouin village to sample a traditional dinner and try out the local four-legged means of transportation. Riders, management and staff visited Masada, site of an ancient Jewish fortress city that was besieged by Romans in the First Century and ended with a mass suicide of nearly 1,000 inhabitants. Riders then swam in the nearby Dead Sea, where the extreme salt and mineral content allows people to float on the surface like an air mattress.

Riders also visited the ancient city of Akka, a former crusaders' fortress that was at one time the largest port in the world and is still inhabited by a religious mix of Muslims, Jews and Christians. Near the end of the camp the team started a ride from the Church of Beatitude, a Catholic house of worship that sits on the edge of the Sea of Galilee on the holy site where Christians believe Jesus walked on water and delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The team ended the camp with a tour of historic Jerusalem and a team presentation in the old city.

The daily excursions serve multiple purposes within the camp, according to team manager Ran Margaliot.

"We want then to have a little fun," Margaliot told Cyclingnews. "They're here in the country, and I think it's important that they experience more than just getting into Facebook after training and stuff. It is important to improve your mind a little bit. They can experience this stuff. They can feel it and taste it."

But the daily trips also played a more important role for riders on Israel's first professional cycling team. Margaliot said he hopes the cultural experience helps his riders understand his home country better and allows the riders to form their own opinions about what the team they're on stands for.

"They will be asked," he said. "One of these guys is going to make an enormous effort one of these days and get an amazing result and will be asked, 'Why do you choose to represent this Israeli team? What does it stand for?' And he needs to know for himself. He needs to establish his own opinion."

New recruit Krists Nielands, a 22-year-old Latvian who ride with Axeon Hagens Berman in 2016, said the Cycling Academy camp was the most unique he's ever experienced.

"We've spent a lot of time on the bikes, but at the same time we are doing a lot of interesting stuff," he said. "We saw desert and we've been hiking and everything. Riding a camel, that was one of the best parts of the camp. So, yeah, it's been a really interesting camp."

"I think what is the most interesting thing in Israel is that this part of Israel looks like Europe, but if you go 100km in the other direction there is just desert. That was a surprise. It's like two countries."