The 2018 Giro d'Italia will begin with a 10.1-kilometre individual time trial in Jerusalem on Friday, May 4 and spend two more days in Israel with stage finishes in Tel Aviv and Eilat. Giro director Mauro Vegni announced the full details of the Israeli Grande Partenza at a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday. Former Giro winners Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso were among those present at the formal announcement.
The opening time trial will start and finish close to the walls of Old Jerusalem, and the rolling, technical course will bring the riders past the Knesset before a gently climbing approach to the line, where the first maglia rosa of the race will be presented.
The two road stages that follow ought to suit the sprinters. Stage 2 starts from the northern port of Haifa and follows a predominantly flat 167-kilometre route to the finish in Tel Aviv. The stage will feature the race's first categorised climb, Zikron Yako, but it would be a surprise if the sprinters were denied their opportunity on the seafront in Tel Aviv.
Stage 3 is some 226 kilometres in length, and sets out from Be'er Sheva and brings the race through the Negev Desert to the finish at the Red Sea port of Eilat. The route climbs gently for the opening 70 kilometres, but the gradual drop towards the finish in Eilat ought to present the sprinters with another chance before the race returns to Italy.
"The time trial here in Jerusalem is quite difficult, and the riders won't have a moment to catch their breath,” Vegni said. "It's a particular time trial, a lot of bends and ups and downs. It's not necessarily for the pure specialists, although the winner will have to be able to defend himself against the watch."
The Giro has started on foreign roads every second year since 2010, with Amsterdam, Herning, Belfast and Utrecht all hosting the event, but the Israeli start will mark the first time in history that a Grand Tour has started from outside of Europe.
The Tour de France organisation previously entertained the idea of starting from as far afield as Guadeloupe in 2000, while delegations from Washington DC and Japan have expressed interest in hosting the Giro start in recent years.
"This start will set down a mark for the future because it's the first time a Grand Tour starts outside Europe. The globalisation of cycling is something that has often been spoken about but not always acted upon," Vegni said.
"I think it's incredible that the Giro starts outside of Europe, and I think it's very good for the world of cycling," said Contador, who was present on stage at the Waldorf Astoria along with mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, Israeli minister for sport Miri Regev, and her Italian counterpart Luca Lotti.
Logistics and security
Israel's location on the Mediterranean and its one-hour time difference from Italy means that the logistics of transporting the race caravan ought to be roughly comparable to those required for previous foreign starts in Europe, such as the 2014 transfer from Dublin to Bari.
As in 2014, 2016 and 2017, the Giro begins on a Friday in order to allow for an additional rest day after stage 3 as the race transfers to Italy. Although the details of stage 4 have yet to be confirmed, it is anticipated that the Giro will resume in Sicily, with the port of Catania the most likely landing spot for the race.
The precise breakdown of the cost of bringing the Giro to Israel is unclear, but the Israeli government has pledged to provide what has been described as the biggest security operation in the country's history.
"I've had various meetings with the teams and there's never been a question of them not coming to Israel. There are clearly difficulties, but the difficulties are logistical, not political," Vegni said.
"In my opinion, I don't think it's a problem to be here," Contador said. "I was in Israel in 2012 for close to two weeks and the support was incredible. Now the situation of the world is a little crazy but it's not a question of one country or another, it's all the world. I'm sure all the riders will be happy to come here and won't think of these things."
The Giro's visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, and has been backed wholeheartedly by the Israel tourism ministry as it seeks to present an image of the country to the world that goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"To realise this out of the box idea, to bring the Giro to Italy, I was somehow able to convince enough people to bring this event to my country," said Sylvan Adams, backer of the Israel Cycling Academy. "This historic event is about showcasing our country to the millions of people watching on television and on the roads. You will experience the real Israel, what I like to call normal Israel, as it celebrates its 70th birthday."
It is rumoured that the 2018 Giro will finish in Rome, with AFP reporting that a finish at the Vatican is in prospect as part of the race's theme of "co-existence and peace." The Giro route will be presented in its entirety at an undisclosed date in November.
Monday's formal announcement means that the Pro Continental Israel Cycling Academy team seems guaranteed its place on the start line in Jerusalem next May. Sylvan Adams confirmed on Sunday night that the team has applied for a wildcard invitation to the corsa rosa but stressed that RCS Sport will not make a decision until January.
Israel Cycling Academy was founded ahead of the 2015 season and is managed by the former Saxo Bank professional Ran Margaliot. The squad has signalled its heightened ambition for 2018 by making a number of notable signings in recent weeks, including Ben Hermans, Ruben Plaza and Edwin Avila.