Two days before the Giro d'Italia is set to start in Jerusalem, the Israel Cycling Academy spent Wednesday afternoon visiting the official Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem for a ceremony honouring Gino Bartali and his efforts to save Jews during World War II. During the ceremony, Bartali, who was previously named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, was given honorary Israeli citizenship.
The war-era cyclist, who won the Giro d'Italia three times and the Tour de France twice, used his fame and relative freedom of movement during the war to smuggle documents for forged papers that helped persecuted Jews move throughout the country to safety. The team have been retracing Bartali's training routes as part of their own yearly tribute to the man, and they were the only team attending the Yad Vashem event.
"We adopted the story of Bartali from the day we founded the team and see it as our obligation to keep his memory alive," said team General Manager Ran Margaliot. "Honorary citizenship was a must, a way to pay respect and be ambassadors and a bridge between our people."
Israel Cycling Academy secured a wildcard invitation to the historic Giro start in Israel and will field a roster that includes two Israelis, Guy Niv and Guy Sagiv, both of whom will make history as the first Israeli pros to start a Grand Tour. The team also features Italian sprinter Kristian Sbaragli, who said that as an Italian the ceremony was especially significant.
"He was a great Italian, and I have always admired him," Sbaragli said. "Being an Italian on an Israeli team makes this very special and emotional for me."
Sagiv took stock in the history of the moment, honouring an Italian champion just days before the 101st Giro d'Italia starts in Jerusalem.
"I have twice followed in the footsteps of Bartali riding to Assisi," said the 23-yea-old Israeli. "Every time I do it, I feel I am doing my small share to keep alive the memory of a great man. For me, visiting Yad Vashem today, just two days before the start of the Giro, was deeply symbolic."