Members of the Israel Cycling Academy team train before the start of the Giro d'Italia cycling race. (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Big Start’ To Prestigious Giro d’Italia Bike Race Comes To Jerusalem

Amid calls to boycott Jerusalem event, organizers welcome “eyes of the world”

Organizers of the 101st Giro d’Italia, the first cycling grand tour to take place outside of Europe, are hoping that as many as one billion sets of eyes will be fixed on the race as it winds through the streets of Jerusalem.

The event comes months after President Trump exploded a political bombshell when he declared American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and ordered the US Embassy to move there from its present location in Tel Aviv. In choosing Jerusalem as its venue, Giro d’Italia also presumably withstood pressure from the Palestinian-backed BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement which seeks to convince organizations from holding any events with Israel.

There was also a bit of friction with Giro d’Italia’s Israeli hosts who insisted that references to the race’s location read “Jerusalem” and not, as was proposed, “West Jerusalem.” The race comes less than two weeks before US Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman presides over the dedication of the interim embassy in Jerusalem.

The classic race, one of the three European cycling grand tours, begins in Jerusalem on Friday and continues through Sunday. Cyclists will race across more than 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) of Israel over three days before heading to Italy.

Although the Giro d’Italia has had a dozen “Big Starts” outside of Italy, it took one hundred years to leave Europe.

“What could be a better start to the new century (than taking the race) the first time out of Europe?” Paolo Bellino, general manager of Giro’s RCS Sport, told a Jerusalem news conference Wednesday. “It was hard. In terms of logistics, it’s a nightmare.”

Some 25 cameras will live-stream 176 riders from vantage points that will include helicopters for aerial shots, making it the largest live television production in Israeli history, according to Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev. It also marks the first time the race will feature live coverage to the world.

Israel Police foreign press spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line that 4,000 police officers will be deployed in and around the different areas of the race. He said it has been one of the most complicated security preparations and events that the police have dealt with.

“It’s the first time this type of scale and event has taken place,” he said. “We want to make sure that there won’t be any possible demonstrations in any way whatsoever. We want to keep it on a security level and of course not on a political level.”

Among the 22 international teams competing in the race are the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, though neither nation will include its own nationals. Similarly, only two Israelis are competing on their team of eight.

The Israel “Big Start,” the most expensive sporting event in Israeli history, reportedly has a budget of 20 million euro, or over $23 million. It is largely financed by the billionaire co-owner of the Israeli Cycling Academy team, Sylvan Adams.

“This is my proudest moment since making Aliyah,” Adams said at the conference on Wednesday using the Hebrew word for moving to Israel. “It could not have happened without us all working together as team.”

This isn’t the first major sporting event hosted by Israel. Most recently, both the 2018 European judo championship and the 2017 EuroBasket basketball tournament took place in Tel Aviv. And it is, however, the most money — $8.3 million according to Regev — that the Israeli government has given to a sporting event.

“This is a mega event in terms of international media,” said police spokesman Rosenfeld. “A number of people will be watching and looking at Jerusalem, the capital, the cities. In fact, seeing the whole perspective of Israel.”

Last year, 840 million viewers watched the Giro d’Italia. This year, 1 billion viewers are expected to tune in during the course of the race.

“I’m inviting a billion first time visitors to Israel to see our beautiful country,” said Adams.

Adams said that the motivation for him to push for the “Big Start” to take place in Jerusalem was for the world to see what he calls “normal Israel.”

He described his other motivation as encouraging the youth of Israel to develop the sport of cycling and “take up this beautiful sport” after watching the Giro d’Italia take place in their own country.

“It means so much … they couldn’t believe that it’s going to be here,” MK Gilad Erdan said to the The Media Line. “Everybody is so excited, and they’re going to watch it, and you’ll see people on the streets, families are going to come. It’s going to be great.”

Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage Zeev Elkin pointed to the cultural significance of the Italian grand tour kicking off in Jerusalem. “Two thousand years ago exiled Jews left Jerusalem to go to Rome,” Elkin pointed out.

“Their heads were bowed down with dreams of independence seemingly shattered,” he said in Hebrew. “(This is) an amazing historic turn of events.”

(Atara Shields is a student intern with The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)


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