I arrive on King Solomon Street in Jerusalem at 9:50am May 4. In precisely four hours, Fabio Sabatini of the Belgian cycling team Quick-Step Floors will lead 176 riders in the 9.7-kilometer individual time trials kicking off the Big Start of the 101st Giro d’Italia Grand Tour — the largest professional sporting event ever held in Israel.
Six hours from now, at 4:45pm, Tom Dumoulin of the German Team Sunweb will be the last rider off the ramp and will ultimately wear the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) for finishing Stage 1 the fastest, at 12 minutes and 2 seconds.
A trickle of spectators is already pressed against the gates lining the bumpy route, whooping and whistling as Giro cyclists do practice runs. About 600 journalists, photographers and videographers are setting up their equipment.
In a few hours, the trickle will swell to a horde of thousands cheering on the 22 teams flown into Israel for the first Big Start ever held outside Europe.
An estimated one billion fans in 198 countries will watch from home before the 3,500-kilometer Giro d’Italia reaches its 21st and final stage in Rome on May 27.
For Israeli cycling enthusiasts, the Giro coming to Israel is an almost unimaginably glorious moment of national pride.
Pre-race events drew mobs as the teams were introduced to fans and tourists in the Big Start host country.
Many locals are following the racers, who include current Tour de France champion Chris Froome, from Jerusalem to Haifa to Tel Aviv to Eilat.
Friday morning on the streets of Jerusalem, excitement is building along with the crowd.
A rider from the United Arab Emirates team cycles by on his practice run, eliciting enthusiastic cheers from the spectators. Only last October, 12 Israeli judokas weren’t permitted to have the ISR letters on their uniforms in the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam 2017 in the UAE last October. Here in Israel, Giro teams representing the UAE and Bahrain are clearly identified as such.
“The 2018 Giro will carry a strong message of peace and coexistence, with its journey representing the ability of sport to build bridges between people, religions and nations,” declared Sylvan Adams, honorary president of the Giro Big Start and the co-owner of the participating Israeli team, the Israel Cycling Academy (ICA).
“The Big Start in Israel will see the world’s very best cyclists competing not only against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s ancient streets and Tel Aviv’s inviting beaches, but also within Jewish, Muslim and Christian mixed neighborhoods and communities living peacefully side by side, the reality that we experience in Israel in our daily lives,” said Adams, who noted that the ICA is the most diverse team, with riders from 16 countries on five continents.
Ahead of the time trial portion, fans flock to the ICA booth to buy apparel emblazoned with the logo of Israel’s first professional biking team.
Veiko, one of the ICA’s mechanics, tells ISRAEL21c that five bicycles were flown from Italy for each of the eight teammates chosen to participate in the Giro d’Italia, adding up to 40 De Rosa cycles in all – two for the time trial and three for the road race – in case of mechanical problems during the race.
‘Every day is a race for me’
The time trial actually began long before the crack of dawn for approximately 25,000 Big Start support personnel reporting for duty on the still sleepy Jerusalem streets.
Massive logistics overseen by Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport/La Gazzetta dello Sport involved lots of temporary workers like Yarden, who at 5am started erecting metal gates and affixing team banners along the six-mile time trial route, and like Ido, who donned his yellow security vest at 6 and won’t turn it in until 12 hours later.
ISDS, the multinational company handling security services for the entire Giro d’Italia, teamed up with Tel Aviv-based Carbyne (formerly Reporty) to provide sophisticated emergency communications enabling first-response and rescue services to better manage any emergency calls that may arise during the Israeli legs of the road race.
Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Executive Chef Itzik Barak opened his kitchen well before sunrise on Friday to start preparing 250 box lunches (chargrilled chicken breast and roasted vegetables on sourdough bread) for Giro officials staying at the five-star hotel, which served as the nerve center for the entire operation.
“You’ve finished your own race already,” I remark to Barak, who stands next to the stack of boxes ready to be claimed by 10 in the morning. “Every day is a race for me,” he responds with a laugh.
On Saturday, May 5, Italian rider Elia Viviani from Quick-Step Floors won Stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia in a bunch sprint at the end of the 167km mostly flat race from Haifa to Tel Aviv, passing through historic Acre and Caesarea.
Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) moved into the overall lead as he won the only intermediate sprint awarding a time bonus, thus becoming the ninth Australian to wear the Maglia Rosa and the 23rd cyclist to lead all three Grand Tours.
Today, the final day of the Big Start, the cyclists started out in Beersheva and took in southern Israel’s most dramatic scenery, including the breathtaking Ramon Crater, before finishing 229km later at the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Viviani won this stage as well, while Dennis retains the Maglia Rosa.