Top cyclists launch historic Giro d’Italia race on Jerusalem’s roadways

The long wait is finally over, with the 101st Giro d’Italia to get underway in Jerusalem on Friday.

One of cycling’s three grand tours, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, will begin with 176 of the world’s top cyclists competing against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City before continuing with road stages between Haifa and Tel Aviv (167 km.) on Saturday and Beersheba and Eilat (226 km.) on Sunday. The riders will then enjoy a rest day before resuming the 21-stage three-week race in southern Italy.

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Since 2006, the Giro has commenced every other year with a high-profile “Big Start” outside of Italy. This year’s “Big Start” in Israel will be the first time the Giro, the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España has been held outside Europe. Honorary President of “Big Start Israel” Sylvan Adams, co-owner of Israel’s only professional team – Israel Cycling Academy – which will be taking part in the Giro, is the driving force behind the arrival of the prestigious race in the Holy Land.

The Israeli-Canadian philanthropist provided the inspiration and much of the funding that was required to attract the organizers, with Culture and revealing the government has invested about NIS 30 million in the initiative, believing local tourism will greatly benefit.

“I want to show this beautiful country in its pure reality to nearly one billion television viewers,” Adams told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week. “My experience with first-time visitors to Israel is that they are almost universally pleasantly surprised. Because nothing that they encountered fits with what their preconceptions were prior to coming. So this is a way to invite one billion first-time visitors to Israel. Unlike a soccer match or basketball games, which take place inside a stadium, cycling takes places outdoors. So for three days, with 16 hours of TV coverage, starting in Jerusalem, our beautiful and important national capital, and then going from Acre in the North all the way down to Eilat, they will literally see all the country.”

was established in December 2014 with the declared goal of putting Israel on the bicycle map of the world and providing an opportunity for the next generation of Israeli riders. Two of the ICA’s eight-man lineup for the Giro are Israeli, with Guy Sagiv and Guy Niv becoming the first blue-and-white cyclists to compete in a grand tour.

Ensuring three smooth days of cycling will require an unprecedented logistical operation, involving government bodies and other official agencies. In addition to the competitors, officials and world media, tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts are expected to arrive in Israel to experience the Giro.

This year’s Giro is also being used as an opportunity to pay tribute to legendary Italian cyclist Gino Bartali, a three-time winner of the Italian competition. Bartali helped rescue hundreds of Italian Jews during the Holocaust and was recognized by Yad Vashem in 2013 as Righteous Among the Nations. A special ceremony honoring Bartali was held at Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev presented the Certificate of Commemorative Citizenship to his granddaughter, Gioia Bartali, in the presence of Italian ambassador to Israel Gianluigi Benedetti and Adams.

“It is beautiful that Bartali is remembered right here in Jerusalem because he was not just a great champion of sport,” said Italy’s Sports Minister Luca Lotti. “He was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the younger generations… never to be forgotten.”