The Israel Cycling Academy today announced the remaining four riders who will take the line for the historic 2018 Giro d'Italia start in Jerusalem on May 4, with two Israeli riders making the cut and sharing the honour as the first from their country to start a Grand Tour.
Guy Sagiv and Guy Niv, 24, will join Australian Zak Dempster and Italian Kristian Sbaragli as the final four riders named to the wildcard team's Giro roster. The team previously announced veterans Ben Hermans and Ruben Plaza, along with Grand Tour newcomer Krists Neilands and former Canadian champion Guillaume Boivin.
"We have a wonderful and incredibly motivated team going to Jerusalem," said Plaza, who recently won the Vuelta a Castilla y León with a long, solo breakaway. "We are making history for Israel and for all of us. I have no doubt, it will be a huge challenge to succeed in winning a stage but I am proud and excited to race with this group and battle the odds."
The team had previously committed to bringing at least one Israeli rider to the start, the first ever non-European start for a Grand Tour, but in a statement released with today's announcement, director Kjell Carlström said the decision to bring two riders fits the team's mission of changing the landscape of cycling.
"While Sagiv and Niv have both progressed tremendously, bringing them to a Grand Tour already is definitely risky," Carlström said. "Sure, we could have gone with a stronger team to the Giro, but we know that between their continuous improvements, their proven mental grit and the backing of their teammates, they will do everything to make it through. More than that, they will help us.
"I am proud of this decision and confident we are sending a balanced, experienced, and versatile team," Carlström said. "We are all motivated to succeed and that means making an impact in the race, and winning a stage would be the icing on the cake."
Sagiv, 23, is currently in his third year as a pro with the team. Carlström said the two-time former Israeli national champion [2015 and 2016] is a reliable, solid domestique who has proven he can be an asset for the team.
"I am so honored to be selected and I believe I have earned this," Sagiv said. "Now I am focusing on only one thing: helping my teammates. This is my role, and I will do everything I can to support our squad."
Niv, 24, was a full-time mountain biker just a year ago and made his pro road debut at the 2017 Tour of Utah, where he struggled to finish the first stage but made it all the through to Salt Lake City on the final day. Carlström said Niv is the team's most-improved rider, riding aggressively last week in the Tour of the Alps and even daring a solo attack.
"The Giro will be extremely tough on him, especially the flat and windy stages," Carlström said. "But Guy has an iron will and such a strong character that we believe he can overcome it. He is courageous and has come so far that we felt he deserved the chance. This is in line with Academy's DNA."
Niv said it was a big relief to get selected for the team after a stressful final 24 hours.
"I am very proud that the team is putting their trust in me," he said. "Selecting Sagiv and me shows Israel and the world that Israel is truly becoming a cycling country with riders taking the sport seriously and achieve their dreams. But beyond this, I believe that I can make it to the last stage in Rome. I see myself in the finish line there."
Sbaragli won the battle of the team's sprinters from the long list released earlier this spring, which also included Colombian Edwin Avila and Estonian Mikhel Raim, who chances were hampered by a broken scaphoid in the early season. Sbaragli was chosen for his ability to win selective sprints.
"He is versatile and experienced," Carlström said. "We believe he is up to the task and motivated to represent Italy for us in the Giro."
Dempster, who had ridden a Vuelta a España and two Tours de France, was chosen for his reliability and leadership on the road.
"Zak is a great asset, no question about it," Carlström said. "We have a great squad for the Giro: one that will leave a mark, inspire the next generation of cyclists in Israel and beyond, and make all our fans in Israel and across the world proud of us."
Team co-owners Sylvan Adams and Ron Baraon said they were proud of the progress the team had made in a short time in the pro peloton. Baron, one of the team's original founders, was especially thrilled to see the team realising some of their ambitious goals.
"I still need to rub my eyes to believe that this is all really happening," Baron said. "The dream of our young team founded less than four years ago is actually coming true as we are presenting a competitive squad of riders to race under the Israeli flag in the Giro d'Italia. The selection of two young Israeli riders should send a strong signal to the next generation of riders in Israel and worldwide that with hard work, their dreams can come true."
Israel Cycling Academy for the Giro d'Italia: Guillaume Boivin, Zak Dempster, Ben Hermans, Krists Neilends, Guy Niv, Ruben Plaza, Guy Sagiv, Kristian Sbaragli