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Israel

Israel takes centre stage in Tour de France

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It was an emotional moment for Israel Premier Tech (IPT) cyclist Hugo Houle when he won Stage 16 of the Tour de France (TDF). The Canadian crossed the line pointing to the sky, dedicating the win to his brother who was killed in a hit-and-run by a drunk driver 10 years ago. His win gave IPT its second victory of the tour after Simon Clarke’s on Stage 5.

“I could not believe it when I crossed the line. I was just so happy. It was what I have been dreaming of for the past 10 years. This one is for my brother,” said Houle.

It was just one of many ups and downs for the team from Israel. For example, South African Daryl Impey was ruled out of the race the day before it began. He was the second rider from the IPT team to test positive for COVID-19. Impey is a two-time stage winner at the Tour and the first South African to wear the leader’s yellow jersey.

Despite being asymptomatic, a test before he was due to travel confirmed he had  coronavirus.  “No symptoms, nothing wrong and I’m healthy,” he said. “It’s very, very frustrating for me because I worked really hard to get here, winning a stage in Switzerland, knowing I was going to the Tour.”

Impey had been hoping to take part in his ninth Tour, this time with four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome as a teammate for the first time. The two have been friends for many years and are both from African countries, with Kenyan-born Froome, who attended high school in South Africa.

Impey signed on to join what was then Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN) in 2020. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report at the time, he said, “Our goal is to win the Tour de France with [fellow team member] Chris Froome. That’s our primary objective.”

ISN announced on 9 July 2020 that Froome would lead the team. “The Israeli team and the legendary champion will sign a long-term contract on 1 August that will see Froome wear ISN’s blue and white until the end of his illustrious career. This is a historic moment for ISN, Israel, Israeli sports, our many fans all around the world and, of course, for me personally, a moment of enormous pride,” said the team’s co-owner, Sylvan Adams, when Froome signed.

Impey quickly followed in his footsteps, signing a two-year contract with ISN on 5 August 2020. “I will be a road captain, and use my experience of racing the TDF to help guide the team as best I can. Apart from the Tour and chasing my own goals, we are also trying to develop cycling in Israel,” he says.

ISN was founded in 2014 by Ron Baron and Ran Margaliot to elevate and popularise the sport in Israel. It began as Israel Cycling Academy (ICA) and grew to become a WorldTour team. It includes riders of 16 nationalities, making it one of the most diverse in the world of pro cycling.

Now, the team is getting noticed on the world stage. On 19 July, an article entitled “From the brink of relegation to grand tour stage winners: how this Tour de France has been a redemption ride for Israel-Premier Tech” was published in online cycling magazine Rouleur. The article describes how “few would have expected the Israeli squad to be one of the most visible non-GC teams at the Tour de France this year, animating stages and being rewarded with wins and podium positions accordingly in one of the biggest races of the year”.

“It’s true that Israel-Premier Tech is a team that has never been afraid to invest for the long haul,” continues Rachel Jary, the author of the article. “They have stuck by Chris Froome as he has worked his way back from the life-threatening injuries he sustained in a crash in 2019, their support never wavering as many doubted if the British rider would return to his previous Tour de France-winning form. When Froome finished third on stage 12, ending atop Alpe d’Huez this year, it was the beginning of his repayment to Israel-Premier Tech for their long-standing belief in him.

“Over half of Israel-Premier Tech’s 31-rider roster are over the age of 30,” she adds. “As the cycling world is going crazy for the wunderkinds who burst onto the scene and win Grand Tours before they even reach 25, this is a team that is showing how experience and craft learnt from years in the peloton can still win you races today.

“The performances of Israel Premier-Tech in this Tour de France are proof that the chance of winning slips away only when riders themselves stop believing it’s possible, and this is a team that is growing in confidence by the day. We will only know by the end of the season if these performances in the Tour de France have been enough to keep IPT in the WorldTour, but they will have gone a long way in strengthening their chances.”

For South African fans, it’s been both thrilling and moving to see an Israeli team take on those mountains. “It’s a celebration of Israel being part of the global sporting community and one of the greatest sporting events,” says keen cyclist and businessman Shaun Matisonn. “It’s unique to see Israel there, winning stages.”

“It’s fantastic to see an Israeli-owned team competing with the best in the world,” adds Herschel Jawitz. “It’s good for cycling, and good for Israel.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paula Seligman

    Jul 21, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    Kol Hakavod to IPT. Our tribe are beyond amazing.
    We, ex South Africans, lived in Paris for 7 years and followed the Tour de France religiously.
    We now live in Sydney.

    Warm wishes
    Shabbat Shalom
    Paula

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