Since the arrival of the Dane Johnny Weltz, first passing through La Garrotxa, and the subsequent calling effect that led Lance Armstrong to change Nice for the Girona Old Town in 2001, Girona has hosted many professional cyclists and has been the headquarters, more or less official and more or less stable, of teams of all kinds. From transatlantic ships like Armstrong’s US Postal to much more modest sets to projects that have left a mark and neighbors in the city like David Millar’s Garmin (now Education First) or Cristian’s Orica (now Mitchelton-Scott) Meier. In the fall of 2017 came one that, at least at the time, didn’t seem to qualify in the big teams group, the Israel Cycling Academy. A team that today, less than three years later, is part of the World Tour as Israel Start-Up Nation with runners like Dan Martin or Andre Greipel and that, with cycling still stunned by the effects of the coronavirus, has announced the signing of the four times Tour de France winner Chris Froome.
“Girona is the ideal place for a cycling team, because it has good weather, good roads and much less traffic than in Lucca, where it is more dangerous to go out to train; Armstrong or Hamilton have already settled here and many other cyclists have been doing the same, ”said then-team spokesman Tsadok Yechezkeli in an interview with the newspaper in November 2017 about a team that then continental category, had changed the Italian city of Lucca for Girona to graft the atmosphere of professionalism in the face of a 2018 that was to be very important for cycling in Israel. The Giro d’Italia began in Jerusalem and the Israel Cycling Academy hoped to participate as a guest. A couple of signings of experienced cyclists, Rubén Plaza from Alicante and the Belgian Ben Shermans, and some more modest additions to accompany a group of young Israelis who, three years ago, landed in Girona with the dream of making a place in professionalism. We have runners from five continents and three different religions, we have signed the Turkish time trial champion (Ahmet Örken), who is a runner with a lot of potential, and we think that cycling can help establish good relations between Israel, Turkey and the rest of the world. countries. We are a very special project, of cycling and peace “, he related in that interview with Diari de Girona Tsadok Yechezkeli about a team that, a couple of years ago, had been born out of the will of Ran Margaliot, an Israeli professional cyclist, to promote professional cycling in his country and the money and philanthropy of Sylvian Adams.
A millionaire of Jewish origin
Canadian businessman Sylvain Adams is a big fan of cycling and, in the spring of 2014, he met Margaliot on a bike ride to the Nes-Harim, a peak near Jerusalem, and out of that chance encounter and a long conversation came out. a project to help young cyclists in Israel reach professionals: the Israel Cycling Academy. Margaliot, who had raced as a professional at Saxo Bank until the end of 2012, did not want the new generations of Israeli cyclists to experience the same as him: to retire without ever competing in the Tour de France.
In the first two years, running as a continental team, the Israel Cycling Academy achieved some victories thanks to Estonian cyclist Mihkel Räim, but it was the decision of the Giro d’Italia to start its 2018 edition in Jerusalem that shot the plans of Margaliot and Adams. The team jumped to the Continental Pro category and in the autumn of 2017 they had already moved to Girona ready to win the place in the Italian round.
“The Israel Cycling Academy project is a great opportunity for us to compete alongside the best in the world. We will work very hard to fulfill dreams like competing in the Giro d’Italia; I’m convinced it’s possible “, explained Yechezkeli at the time, who had moved to Girona with the team’s youngest runners. They got it and since then the team has not stopped growing. Every year more well-known cyclists arrived on an international scale until, in the run-up to the 2020 season, Sylvain Adams saw the possibility of keeping the license of the Russian team Katusha. So, all of a sudden, the team made the leap to the UCI World Tour leaving runners who were in the Katusha, like Dani Navarro, and also investing to make sure stars like André Greipel or the Irishman Dan Martin who, accompanied from another professional living in Girona for years, such as the Australian Rory Sutherland, they jumped from Team Ermirates to the new Israel Start-Up Nation.
Martin alternates Girona, where he lived for many years, with his current residence in Andorra and, as he himself explained in an interview with Cyclingnews.com, received a call from Froome shortly after the four-time Tour de France winner had on the table to sign for the Israel Start Up Nation. “Chris contacted me before making the decision and asked me how the team was. We have known each other for a long time, we first ran together in 2006 as fans, and we have always had good communication, ”explained Martin, who knows that with the future arrival of Froome, the Israel Start-Up Nation will become one of the most powerful cycling teams in the world. And all in all, less than three years after choosing Girona as the gateway to elite cycling.