The Israel Cycling Academy continues to build on its Canadian connections, adding Alex Cataford from UnitedHealthcare to the 2019 roster and re-signing Ben Perry. The team previously announced re-signing Canadian Guillaume Boivin.
"ICA has a special connection to Canada, because of my roots and connections there," said team co-owner Sylvan Adams, a Montreal native who immigrated to Israel several years ago. "We now boast three riders from Canada, the second most after our Israeli contingent.
"In 2016, the Canadian and Israeli men's and women's national teams held a joint training camp in the Negev desert to mimic climatic conditions before the World Championships in Qatar, and a special bond was created between the two countries."
Adams said the Israel Cycling Academy is considered a 'second home team' to the Canadian national team when it competes in the WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal.
"Due to the presence of our Canadian riders, Canadian sports director Paulo Saldanha and our Canadian co-owner, who also has a few friends and fans in Canada, of course," Adams said. "I'm excited about this connection, as ICA has a lot of support in Canada and hopefully it will only grow."
Cataford, 25, raced with Canadian Continental team Garneau-Quebecor in 2013 before moving to Italian squad Amore & Vita in 2014. He jumped to Silber Pro Cycling for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, then raced with UnitedHealthcare the past two years.
Joining Israel Cycling Academy is a big move for a rider whose career nearly ended in a horrific crash in 2014.
"I joined the Canadian junior national team, where I was junior national champ six times, and my career really took off from there," Cataford recalled. "However, I did have a big setback in 2014. Early in the year I was hit by a car in training, broke my neck, jaw and had several other serious injuries. Over the course of the year I had to undergo three surgeries and could not race the whole year.
"However, I trained hard afterwards and came back stronger than before," Cataford said. "Since then I have enjoyed some good results, including several podiums at the Canadian TT championships, second overall at the Tour of the Gila and other UCI stage race podiums. Despite my results, I still think my greatest achievement was getting back on the bike after my serious accident in 2014."
Cataford said he excels in time trialing and can hold his own on the climbs, making him a possible GC contender.
"However, I like to think of myself as a very versatile rider who can fit into many different roles in the team," Cataford said. "I love the sport of cycling because it is a sport that rewards the most dedicated and hard-working athletes, qualities that I believe I have. My goals are to race the biggest races in the world, hopefully one day the big monuments and the Tour de France."
Israel Cycling Academy, which gained an entry into the Giro d'Italia this year with the race's historic start in Israel, has made no secret that it's targeting a start in the Tour de France in the next couple of seasons.
The team has already upgraded the 2019 squad significantly by adding sprinters like Frenchman Rudy Barbier from AG2R La Mondiale and Italians Davide Cimolai from Groupama-FDJ and Riccardo Minali from Astana, among others.
"Alex is a versatile rider who has shown very good development in his last few years," Saldanha said. "Alex is a strong TT rider. He can be a GC and single-day threat and is a developing climber. He has played a key role as a support rider for his UHC squad.
"Alex is a smart guy [he has a degree in physics - ed.] and is eager to learn with an open mindset," Saldanha said. "He will continue to evolve, and with his excellent engine size, we hope that he will become a key piece of the ICA squad for years to come."
Perry, who came to the team from Silber Pro Cycling in 2017, earned his contract extension by making steady progress in his development.
"Ben had a much-improved season from his first one," Saldanha said. "He has continued to evolve as a rider with multiple second and fourth places in various races. He has finished 16 times in top 20 this season. Ben is a hard-working Canadian athlete who still has some developing to do, but if he continues to improve like he did last year he will be able to play multiple roles as a potential threat in single-day races, breakaway rider and a good team mate."
Perry said he's excited to see what 2019 holds for him and the team.
"Jobs were scarce this year with the disappearance of a few teams, and, despite the abundance of available riders, I feel proud that Israel Cycling Academy chose me," the 24-year-old said.
"My last two years with the Academy have been a whirlwind; being new to European racing is a learning curve," Perry said. "I learned a lot about my strengths as an individual, but more importantly, how to be a better teammate. To be racing with and against some of the biggest names in sport has added on new layers and dimensions to my craft. I am so excited to keep perfecting this sport that I love so much."
Perry is also excited to be reacing with Cataford, his countryman and former Silber teammate.
"Alex and I have been friends for many years," he said. "We are both Ontario boys who first met at provincials in 2009; this was just my second bike race ever. Alex set the bar high by winning solo that day. We have had a few epic days out front in the break together, and our riding styles really complement one another. Reconnecting with an old teammate and good friend is the happiest coincidence I can think of."