Grand Tour veterans Ben Hermans and Rubén Plaza were brought on this year to bolster the team's stage racing prowess and were obvious selections. The pair will join Latvian champion Krists Neilands as he makes his Grand Tour debut when the Giro rolls out of Jerusalem on May 4.
Neilands, 23, has just one pro win, stage 5 at the Tour d'Azerbaïdjan last year, but he's an aggressive rider who featured in multiple breakaways recently at Tirreno-Adriatico and famously launched an attack on the Poggio that Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) countered on his way to a solo Milan-San Remo win.
"Krists is Academy DNA: a young rider who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and has developed remarkably," said General Manager Ran Margaliot.
"He has come a long way since he joined us 16 months ago. His selection to our Giro squad is therefore very natural, yet it is going to be his first Grand Tour so we won't put any pressure on him. We will let him 'grow' with the race and take it step by step based on his sensations in the second and third week."
Neilands was understandably happy to be one of the first riders picked for the historic Giro start, the first time a Grand Tour will start outside of Europe. Team ownership was integral in bringing the race to Israel, and making the roster for the race is a big show of confidence in the young rider.
"The Giro is one of the biggest races in the world and one of my dreams is to take part in a Grand Tours," Neilands said. "Riding the Giro means a lot to me."
Team Manager Kjell Carlström was impressed with his young charge's development since Neilands joined the team last year from Axel Merckx's U23 development team.
"He showed us especially in Milano-San Remo," Carlström said. "He did a great race and was on the attack on the Poggio, which was the winning move. Krists is a strong guy and he’s getting even stronger, so he has a place in the Giro."
Plaza, Hermans and a long list for five places
While Neilands makes his Grand Tour debut, Hermans and Plaza have 17 Grand Tours between them and will share their experience with their teammates.
Plaza, the 38-year-old Spaniard who signed with the team this year after three seasons with the Orica teams, has ridden 12 three-week races in his 20-year pro career. He's won two stages in the Vuelta, in 2005 and 2015, and he won stage 16 to Gap in the 2015 Tour de France. Plaza was sixth overall in the 2005 Vuelta and he finished 10th in the 2010 Tour de France.
Hermans, 31, has ridden the Giro three times and the Vuelta twice. Coming off four seasons with BMC, with whom he won the Tour of Oman last year, the Belgian will likely be the main protected rider for Israel Cycling Academy at this year's Giro.
Riders on the long list vying for the five remaining roster spots include Edwin Avila, Guillaume Boivin, Zak Dempster, Nathan Earle, Sondre Holst Enger, Roy Goldstein, August Jensen, Guy Niv, Guy Sagiv, Kristian Sbaragli, Daniel Turek and Dennis van Winden.
Of the remaining selections, at least one will go to an Israeli rider, who will make history as the first Israeli to start a Grand Tour. Goldstein, 24, Niv, 24, and Sagiv, 23, are vying for the honour, although it remains a 'friendly' competition.
"I prefer not to see myself contending for a spot against my Israeli teammates but proving that I deserve it compared to the other riders in the team," said Israeli climber Guy Niv. "I want to be picked because I am a good rider, not because I am Israeli. If we Israelis will be good enough, we can get two spots in the Giro lineup. Why not?"
Carlström said history aside, the riders selected must be up to the demands of a three-week tour.
"We start in Israel but we finish in Italy," he said. "On top of being able to help the team and being maybe in a breakaway, he has to be able to make it through the whole Giro with the team. I'm sure he can do it."
Team co-owner Sylvan Adams said the selection is especially difficult because of the hard work and commitment all of the team's riders have shown. Nevertheless, some will be disappointed.
"From the riders announced so far, Ben and Rubén were signed largely in anticipation of this race, our first participation in a Grand Tour," Adams said. "As for Krists' early selection, he earned his position through his excellent season start. For the remaining five rider selections, we will not necessarily be choosing the five best riders, but rather those that will complete our eight man Giro squad and provide the best opportunity to achieve our goals in this historic Giro that begins on home soil next month."
As part of the Giro selection and preparation process, the riders and staff are currently at an altitude camp at Sierra Nevada in Spain. The team will make the final Giro selections after racing at Amstel Gold, the Tour of Croatia and the Tour of the Alps.
Israel Cycling Academy for the Giro d'Italia: Ben Hermans, Krists Neilands, Rubén Plaza
Israel Cycling Academy Giro d'Italia long list: Edwin Avila, Guillaume Boivin, Zak Dempster, Nathan Earle, Sondre Holst Enger, Roy Goldstein, August Jensen, Guy Niv, Guy Sagiv, Kristian Sbaragli, Daniel Turek, Dennis van Winden.
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