Riders from the Israel Cycling Academy recently completed a final ride from the Negev Desert to Jerusalem as the team prepare for their fifth season in the UCI ranks and their third season at the Pro Continental level. Last season saw the team make history on the start line of the Giro d'Italia's roll out in Jerusalem, and the ambitious upstart program has even bigger plans for 2019.
The team revealed an "opening blitz" of 45 total race days over the first five weeks of the season, with squads competing in Colombia, France, Argentina, Spain, Rwanda, Italy, Mallorca and Belgium. They're also hoping for a return trip to the Giro, which is expected to announce teams later this month, and an even bigger push to get the attention of the Tour de France organisers for a possible widlcard berth in 2020.
The team added 10 new riders for 2019, and all were present at the final training camp in Israel, which featured four days of intense training, crossing through the desert to Jerusalem and then straight to the Gino Bartali memorial in the "Yad Vashem" Holocaust museum for some cultural education about their new team and the country they represent.
"It was a great privilege to honour one of our greatest legends," new recruit Davide Cimolai said of the Bartali Memorial, which pays tribute to the Italian champion who saved Jews from the Holocaust by smuggling forged documents hidden in his bike frame during the second world war. Yad Vashem has recognised Bartali as "Righteous among the Nations".
"I was very emotional and proud to stand there in front of his memorial," Cimolai said. "I'm proud to be Italian and proud to be an Italian riding for a Israeli team dedicated to keep his memory alive."
Following the camp, the riders will divide into groups once again to begin their 2019 "blitz". Starting with the Vuelta a San Juan on January 27 in Argentina, the team will put in 45 days of racing in a period of 34 days. The team also confirmed that they will race in the Tour of Rwanda, the Vuelta Valencia and in Tour Colombia, among others.
"We certainly want to get into the hunt for points from the very start of the season," said team manager Kjell Carllstrom. "We want to get the season up and running. We know it will be a very tough challenge for us. Many teams want the very same thing."
Team co-owner Sylvan Adams, who has invested heavily in the first Israeli team and the Giro statrt in Israel last year, was clear about what he expects from the team in 2019.
"We want to be up there in the race for Pro Continental top ranking," he said. "It's the opportunity to get to the Tour De France and the other big races through the front door. Our second challenge: We want to see Israeli riders step on to the podiums."
Co-owner Ron Baron said he knows competing for the top Pro Continental ranking will be difficult, but the team already proved that they can punch beyond their weight.
"You just have to look at the historic Giro that started in Israel for proof," he said.