The Israel Cycling Academy riders are using the historic Giro d'Italia start in Israel not only as an opportunity to add to their own palmares and to boost their cycling team, but their hope is the spectacle of the Grande Partenza in Jerusalem will provide inspiration for a new generation of cyclists.
With two Israeli riders, Guy Niv and Guy Sagiv, making the first Grand Tour starts for any Israeli rider, the team is sharing their focus on achieving a stage win along with the goal of seeing Sagiv and Liv through to the finish.
"The concept was to use this beautiful platform, these great athletes, this amazing opportunity from the media, and this special edition of the Giro to inspire an entire generation of new cyclists," team General Manager Ran Margaliot said in the pre-race press conference Tuesday evening, adding that the team will dedicate a lot of energy to making sure they are "guiding the young guys."
The selection of both Sagiv, 23, and Niv, 24, for the Giro roster was a bit of a surprise after the team added considerably more experienced riders in the off-season. But the team's mission is to grow the sport in Israel while providing opportunities to riders from countries that are underrepresented in the peloton. Putting the two Israeli riders in their first Grand Tours and the first for any Israeli riders fulfills that mission on several points.
"It's a great opportunity for me," said Niv, who was a professional mountain biker before taking up road racing last season. "I'm really excited, but I'm here not only to ride well for my team but also to hopefully be an inspiration to young Israeli riders who will see us racing this weekend. We hope the Giro will change the culture of Israeli cycling over the next few years."
Sagiv said the opportunity to start the Giro was "triple excitement."
"For every kid who rides, the dream is first to become a pro cyclist, then the next dream is to take part in a Grand Tour, and that really excites me, especially when it's here in Israel, so it's triple excitement for me," Sagiv said. "Growing up in Israel there was no specific team to dream of, but now for kids in Israel they have this team to aspire to."
The team's dream reaches far beyond getting Israeli riders into and to the finish of a Grand Tour, however, as team co-owner Sylan Adams laid out the goals for the next three weeks.
"First, to be active in the races as we've done all season, especially of late," Adams said at the press conference. "Second, we'd like to win a stage or two. Let's be optimistic. We can be lucky but we have to make our own luck. I see a stage or two where, if we can have the right strategy and the right luck, we can win. Third, bringing Israelis to a Grand Tour was a goal and now that we've done that, we want to bring both our Israeli riders, Guy Niv and Guy Sagiv, to Rome to make it through the race."
The team's best chances for a stage win come from 2018 recruits Ben Hermans and Ruben Plaza. Both have Grand Tour experiences with 38-year-old Plaza claiming stage wins in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
"When you are nearing the end of your career, you always try to enjoy the attention," said Plaza, who recently won the final stage and the overall at Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. "I don't know if this will be my last Grand Tour, so I just want to enjoy it. My main goal is to win a stage or certainly fight for it. The goal of the team is the same. We have ahead of us three hard weeks to try to do it."