Cyclists in Jerusalem. (AP/Oded Balilty) (AP/Oded Balilty)
Cyclists in Jerusalem

In a historic moment for Israeli sports, the 101st edition of the Giro d’Italia bike race will begin with the “Big Start” in Jerusalem.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff

After months of intense preparations, Israel is ready to finally get things underway this week with its historic hosting of the Giro d’Italia cycling race.

The world’s best riders will start the race in Jerusalem on Friday in the first time a cycling Grand Tour will ever be held outside Europe. It’s the biggest and most prestigious sporting event ever hosted in Israel and features four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who is looking to become only the third person ever to win the three Grand Tour titles in a row.

For Israel, hosting the event marks a major coup and looks to draw tens of thousands of tourists and a chance to showcase its people and landscape to a global television audience.

In its 101-year history, the Giro has previously opened a dozen times outside Italy but never outside Europe.

Its arrival in Israel is the result of the lobbying efforts of Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli cycling enthusiast who conjured the idea to coincide with Israel’s marking 70 years of independence. He said his aim was twofold: to promote the sport in Israel and to project its “normal” image to the world, rather than the typical association of war and conflict.

Showing the Beauty of the Country

“This is a mini-Giro, if you will. In three days we can cover a similar percentage of the country as Italy does in the whole race,” Adams told The Associated Press. “We’ll show the beauty of the country, that Israel is a sporting country and that it is open and free and most importantly safe.”

The Giro itself caused a minor uproar when organizers billed the opening leg as in “West Jerusalem,” angering Israel, which considers the entire city to be its eternal capital. The Giro ultimately reverted back to simply using “Jerusalem.”

At no stage did the course ever intend to pass through the Old City and its narrow, bumpy roads that are unsuitable for racing.

After the 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) opening time trial in hilly Jerusalem, the 167-kilometer (104-mile) second stage will whiz down the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Stage 3 will follow a lengthy 229-kilometer (143-mile) route — the second-longest leg of the entire race — from Beersheba in the Negev desert down to Israel’s southern tip of Eilat along the Red Sea.

First Israeli Participation in the Giro

The 176 cyclists are made up of 22 teams of eight, including the first two Israelis to participate in a Grand Tour event as part of the inaugural Israel Cycling Academy team. The race will then transfer to Italy and the island of Sicily for an early rest day on May 7.

The event consists of 21 days of racing, totaling 3,546.2 kilometers (2,203.6 miles) with 44 kilometers (27 miles) of vertical elevation.

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