Israel Start-Up Nation have sent a five-rider team to the Tour du Rwanda and have kickstarted their trip by launching a new project under the banner of “Racing for Change”. The team initiative will see the squad pledge their support to a young girls' cycling team in the village of Bugasera, with kits, scholarships, and equipment provided as part of the project.
The squad is the only WorldTour team on the start list of the eight-day race but the event, now in its 13th season, has a huge amount of depth with Team Total Direct Energie, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, and B&B Hotels p/b KTM all taking part. Before the racing began, Israel Start-Up Nation traveled to the village of Bugasera to publicize their support of equality and encourage more females into cycling.
“We have 'adopted' the girls’ cycling team, not only by supplying equipment but also by providing professional training,” the team said in a statement issued on Friday. “We will help the community center access the bikes that will enable students in the nearby school to start riding together and experience cycling.”
The team met with the girls’ club riders and students who live in the village, accompanied by the team’s owners Sylvan Adams and Ron Baron.
Cherie Pridham, sports director for the team, also attended the visit to Bugasera for the launch of the cycling club – the only girls’ club in the country.
“I truly believe that there is a great potential here for the girls to take on cycling and [I’m] excited to take part of it,” she said. “To me, it is especially extraordinary as this country gave women so many opportunities.”
During the visit, the team and its owners visited the school and the community center. The team mechanics and riders joined with equipment that they brought, and worked on fixing and maintaining bikes. Kits were handed out to the young riders while scholarships were also offered.
On the racing front, Omer Lahav, Edo Goldstein, Alexis Renard, James Piccoli, and Norman Vahtra make up the team, with Pridham and Lionel Marie set to direct from the team car.
“We cannot lose focus for a single second in Rwanda,” Pridham said in a statement issued by the team. “Big groups can go, and take huge advantages. We will work hard for GC but also look for opportunities and try for a stage win.”
Piccoli, who has won both the Tour of the Gila and Tour de Beauce during his career, will target the overall classification while Estonian national road champion Vahtra will aim for the sprint stages.
The Tour du Rwanda was due to take place from February 21-28 but was rescheduled for May 2-9. The terrain on offer is comprised of stages for sprinters and punchers, but the individual time trial on stage 7 includes the Wall of Kigali. The most challenging day will be stage 3, which will no doubt shape the overall classification, with a distance of 171.6 kilometers and 3,680 meters of climbing.
Goldstein, who is listed as part of the team’s Continental programme, believes that the squad can aim high over the eight-day race.
“Personally, my preparation has been good and I am looking forward to racing on African roads. Last but not least, we have the necessary experience in the team to know what to expect from this race. Therefore, I think that Israel Start-Up Nation can be ambitious,” he said.
Lahav is the only remaining team member from last year’s race and his knowledge of the road, terrain and racing in Rwanda will be vital.
“It is not only the Wall of Kigali that can hurt though. There is barely any meter flat in the Tour du Rwanda. The elevation and the altitude make this race super difficult. The local riders, who are perfectly adapted to the circumstances, always race super aggressively, supported by their fellow countrymen,” Lahav said.
“The cobbles, the fans, and the sound, they all make this climb special. For me, this wall is the icon for Rwandan cycling.”
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