Giro d’Italia

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Giro riders face political hurdles next year in Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM — When the world’s cycling elite converge on Israel next year for the storied Giro d’Italia race, they will grapple with the rugged hills of Jerusalem, speed by the shimmering Mediterranean Sea and huff their way through the moonscape of the southern Negev Desert.

But one place the riders will skip is the crown jewel of the local tourism industry, Jerusalem’s ancient Old City.

Under a longstanding tradition, the annual multi-stage race has had some starts and stages take place outside of Italy. In a public relations coup for Israel, the 2018 event here will be the first time the race has taken place outside of Europe. The Giro is to start in Jerusalem and include two additional stages in Israel.

Race organizers said the route will not go through any land considered occupied by the international community. That means the course will circumvent the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as parts of a future independent state.

Race director Mauro Vegni said he was aware of the political sensitivities and had drawn up the course with the “guidance” of the Italian Foreign Ministry.

“The reality is that we want it to be a sports event and stay away from any political discussion,” Vegni told The Associated Press.

Avoiding politics, however, is difficult when dealing with Jerusalem. Israel considers east Jerusalem an inseparable part of its capital, while the Palestinians claim the area as their capital. The conflicting and emotional claims to east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often complicate what might be routine events in other locales.

Foreign dignitaries rarely enter east Jerusalem, and when they do visit, such as President Donald Trump’s trip to the Old City last May, it is usually done privately.

In the case of the Giro, the opening stage in Jerusalem will carefully avoid the city’s invisible pre-1967 boundaries.

Riders will be able to glimpse the ancient walls of the Old City, but they will not enter it or any Palestinian neighborhoods. Other stages are planned along the Mediterranean coast, and in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed it had helped Italian race organizers “get a better understanding of the broader political context” and make sure the “routes are inside the pre-1967 borders.”

The Giro is one of cycling’s prestigious Grand Tour races, along with the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta. The race in Israel will mark the first time that any of the Grand Tour events is held outside of Europe.

It’s an achievement for Giro organizer RCS Sport to go beyond the continent ahead of rival ASO, which organizes the Tour and the Vuelta. Giro organizers declined to say how much their Israeli partners had paid to bring the race to Israel.

Israeli leaders and local race officials said they are thrilled to host the Giro, labeling it as the biggest and most prestigious sporting event ever held in Israel. They expect tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

“We understand that not everyone agrees with us,” said Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Gilad Erdan, who oversees the country’s efforts to counter an international pro-Palestinian boycott movement of the Jewish state.

Erdan said the fact the Giro is coming to Israel “is a huge achievement in and of itself that strengthens Israel’s legitimacy.”

The Sports Ministry, whose minister, Miri Regev, is so passionate about Jerusalem that she wore a dress decorated with the walls of the Old City to the Cannes Film Festival this year, called the race a symbol of “peace and unity.” The ministry said the Giro would promote Israel’s history, heritage, “magical views” and holy sites.

That does not mean the race organizers can just coast to the finish line. The Palestinians and their allies in the boycott movement have objected to promotional materials on the Giro’s social media that include photos and videos of the Old City of Jerusalem.

A photo on the Giro’s Twitter account shows the Spanish cycling great Alberto Contador with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barket in front of the Old City, and a video on Facebook shows footage of the Western Wall and other sites inside the Old City.

The Palestinian ambassador in Rome, May Kaileh, said her embassy is putting pressure on the race to remove the photos.

The Palestinian sports minister, Jibril Rajoub, called the photographs an “issue of misunderstanding” and said he hopes they will be removed. “The most important thing for us, the race is not entering the 1967 boundaries, including east Jerusalem,” he said.

However, Omar Barghouti, Palestinian co-founder of the anti-Israel boycott movement, called on the Giro to cancel the Israel stages altogether and move the race elsewhere.

Promotional material that “deceptively” portrays east Jerusalem as part of Israel, and working with an Israeli partner that does business in West Bank settlements, amount to “shameful complicity” with Israeli rights violations, he said.

Barghouti also promised pro-Palestinian demonstrations if the race takes place in Israel.

“Civil society organizations in Palestine, Italy and throughout Europe are mobilizing to convince participating teams, sponsors and cycling federations to pressure Giro d’Italia to relocate the race,” he said. “Giro d’Italia can expect nonviolent, lively protests if it insists on whitewashing Israel’s occupation and apartheid.”

Vegni, the Giro director, rejected the criticism.

“I hope that it’s treated as a sports event. And I hope it’s treated as a sports event by the Palestinians also,” he said.

 

Giro director to Froome: Come make ‘history’ in Italy

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ROME — Rain, often snow, and sometimes even mud.

The conditions at the Giro d’Italia are often everything that Chris Froome dislikes most.

Yet if the Kenyan-born, heat-loving Briton enters next year’s race he’ll have the chance to become the first cyclist to win the Tour de France, Spanish Vuelta and Giro in succession.

“He has to have the desire to try and become the first rider to achieve this feat,” Giro director Mauro Vegni said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It would be historical.”

Froome finally won the Vuelta last month to add to his four Tour titles, leaving the Giro as the only Grand Tour he hasn’t claimed.

While no cyclist has ever won all three Grand Tours in the same season, two riders have won three or more consecutive Grand Tours over two seasons.

Eddy Merckx won four straight in 1972 (Giro and Tour) and 1973 (Vuelta and Giro), and Bernard Hinault won three in 1982 (Giro and Tour) and 1983 (Vuelta).

But nobody has achieved the feat since the Vuelta was moved to the end of the season in 1995. And only six riders have won all three Grand Tours in their careers.

“I think he should have the right motivation to come,” Vegni said this week.

Still, it’s unlikely that Froome will want to risk his chances of matching the record of five Tour titles held by Merckx, Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain.

After all, nobody has achieved the Giro-Tour double since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

“If he wins the Giro, who’s stopping him?” Vegni said. “He’s one of the few riders who can really attempt to follow a Giro victory by also taking the Tour. But first he should grab this milestone. There’s plenty of motivation but it needs to be him that judges it worthy of attempting.”

Perhaps making matters easier, the Tour will start a week later next year to avoid conflicting with soccer’s World Cup – which would give Froome six weeks rather than five to recover and refocus after the Giro.

Froome has raced the Giro twice but not since before he became a Grand Tour contender.

He finished 36th in the 2009 Giro and was disqualified from the 2010 edition for holding on to a police motorbike up the feared Mortirolo pass.

The Giro also remains the only Grand Tour that Froome’s dominant Team Sky has never won.

Former Sky leader Bradley Wiggins entered the 2013 Giro as favorite only to struggle with crashes and wet roads before withdrawing midway through the race with a chest infection.

Geraint Thomas, one of Froome’s most loyal support riders, made an attempt at winning his first Grand Tour in this year’s Giro, only to withdraw with an injured knee following a crash caused by a police motorbike that also affected another Sky hopeful, Mikel Landa.

Vegni is going to have make quite a sales pitch to Froome and Sky team principal Dave Brailsford.

“We’re working on it,” Vegni said. “I think we’ll have a chat with (Froome), his physical trainer and his manager before the end of the year.”

Yet Vegni has no intention of paying Froome to come, like previous race director Angelo Zomegnan did with Lance Armstrong in 2009 – when an acknowledged fee of about $1 million convinced the now-disgraced American to compete in his only Giro.

“I don’t think that a rider like Froome or like Armstrong was has the necessity to be `hired,’ if we want to use that term,” Vegni said. “It’s more necessary that they feel it suits them. Riders like them don’t need any extra money. They need more of a plan, a goal, and motivation that gives them the desire to participate.”

Giro organizers recently announced that next year’s race from May 4-27 will begin with three stages in Israel – marking the first time a Grand Tour will be held outside Europe.

The rest of the route through Italy will be presented in late November.

With teams still formulating their plans for next year, Vegni is also unsure whether defending champion Tom Dumoulin or Italian standouts Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru will commit to the Giro.

But the focus is on Froome.

“He creates the most interest,” Vegni said.

Giro d’Italia to open 2018 race in Israel

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JERUSALEM — The Giro d’Italia cycling race will open next year’s event in Israel, marking the first time any leg of the sport’s Grand Tours will take place outside of Europe.

Race organizers say details of the exact route of the three-day leg in Israel will be announced next week. Italian and Israeli ministers will make the announcement, along with Spanish great Alberto Contador.

More than 175 of the world’s best cyclists will arrive in Israel for the race, one of cycling’s top three stage races along with the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta. For the first time in its 101-year history, the Giro will begin outside Europe.

Viewed by hundreds of millions across the globe, this will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Israel.