For Tour de France newcomers Israel Start-Up Nation, this year’s race is a chance to send a message before Chris Froome arrives next season as part of a plan to turn them into contenders.
Owner Sylvan Adams wants his team to fly the Israeli flag. Their livery is in the national colors of blue and white with “Israel” and a Star of David across the chest. When the race starts in Nice on Sunday, their patchwork team will include the first Israeli to ride the Tour, Guy Niv.
“I am honoured and privileged to represent my country and team in the biggest race in cycling,” the 26-year-old Niv said in a team press release. “And to be the first Israeli to do so? It might sound cliche, but my dream of
a lifetime has now been realised. The first goal is to develop cycling in Israel,” he said. “The second goal is to introduce the world to the Israel that I know and love.”
Last season, Israel Start-Up Nation was on the second-tier Continental tour, known as ‘Pro-Conti’. They only secured a place on the World Tour when they bought the licence of the failing Katusha team for $1 the day before the October 1, 2019, deadline.
Even though they inherited a handful of Katusha riders and signed 38-year-old German sprinter Andre Greipel and 34-year-old Anglo-Irish veteran Dan Martin, Adams is pragmatic.
“We have a Pro-Conti budget and Pro-Conti roster. We don’t really have a general classification candidate,” said Adams. “We have some horses, and could possibly steal a stage.”
THEN CAME FROOME
That will change when four-time winner Froome, who turns 36 next May, joins. “The opportunity to sign Chris came up when he decided that maybe the Ineos structure of multiple leaders wasn’t how he wanted to race,” Adams said.
“He wanted to participate in decision making but Ineos is a top-down situation. Instead of being a corporate structure, we’re really a family.
Adams is recruiting a strong group of supporting riders for next season, including South African Daryl Impey and Michael Woods who will be the fourth Canadian in the squad. “If we’re going to invest in Chris, we have to build around him,” said Adams. “We’ll be a real threat to win the Tour.”
For Adams winning races is the third goal. “Winners get all the attention. They’ll notice us a lot more if Chris
Froome wins the Tour de France.” The 62-year-old Adams ran his family’s property company in his native Canada, emigrated to Israel in 2015 and proclaimed himself “self-appointed ambassador-at-large for Israel” adding that because he awarded himself the title, “I can’t be reassigned or fired.”
Adams began competitive cycling as an adult and won two world masters titles and Canadian and Israeli masters titles. He took over the recently former Israel Cycling Academy team, the basis for Start-Up Nation, in 2015 and paid to bring the start of the 2018 Giro d’Italia to Israel. The fee “was too high, frankly,” he said. But he made sure his team was invited.
“It was my party,” he said. “During those three days we had more than one million fans come onto the
street, watch this race and cheer on my team. The major sports are soccer and basketball and we’re terrible at soccer.”
It also drew a global television audience, which is part of his soft-power strategy. “I’m trying to address a very large audience,” he told AFP. “I don’t try to convince one person at a time because it takes too long and I’m too old.”
The Tour start list also includes the more established national representatives: Bahrain-McLaren, UAE Team Emirates and Astana, the former name of the Kazakhstan capital.
Adams rejects suggestion that he is “sportwashing”. “You wouldn’t accuse any other country of ‘washing’ every time they engage with the world,” he said, adding that he intends to keep going, “unless peace breaks out everywhere in the world and we’re totally accepted and loved.”