Israel to host Giro d’Italia after political snag

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JERUSALEM — After resolving a brief crisis over the status of its proclaimed capital, Israel is ready to finally get things underway this week with its historic hosting of the Giro d’Italia cycling race.

The world’s best riders will start the race in Jerusalem on Friday in the first time a cycling Grand Tour will ever be held outside Europe. It’s the biggest and most prestigious sporting event ever hosted in Israel and features four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who is looking to become only the third person ever to win the three Grand Tour titles in a row.

For Israel, hosting the event marks a major coup and looks to draw tens of thousands of tourists and a chance to showcase its people and landscape to a global television audience.

In its 101-year history, the Giro has previously opened a dozen times outside Italy but never outside Europe. Its arrival in Israel is the result of the lobbying efforts of Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli cycling enthusiast who conjured the idea to coincide with Israel’s marking 70 years of independence. He said his aim was twofold: to promote the sport in Israel and to project its “normal” image to the world, rather than the typical association of war and conflict.

“This is a mini-Giro, if you will. In three days we can cover a similar percentage of the country as Italy does in the whole race,” Adams told The Associated Press. “We’ll show the beauty of the country, that Israel is a sporting country and that it is open and free and most importantly safe.”

As with anything regarding Israel, though, politics could not be avoided.

The 2018 race will open in Jerusalem, but organizers insisted 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. Racers will steer clear of the Old City, the crown jewel of Israeli tourism and home to Jerusalem’s most important Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.

Palestinians have protested the decision to hold the event in Israel, and boycott activists have promised to demonstrate against it.

The Giro itself caused a minor uproar when organizers billed the opening leg as in “West Jerusalem,” angering Israel, which considers the entire city to be its eternal capital. The Giro ultimately reverted back to simply using “Jerusalem,” which in turn enraged Palestinians, who said it served to “legitimize the annexation of Jerusalem.” The Palestinians and their allies have also objected to promotional materials on the Giro’s social media that include photos and videos of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Adams, who has been named the Giro d’Italia Big Start Israel Honorary President, shunned the controversy, saying that at no stage did the course ever intend to pass through the Old City and its narrow, bumpy roads that are unsuitable for racing.

“It’s off-message. This is a sporting event. I don’t want to get into politics. It’s about building bridges through sports,” he said, noting that he hasn’t gotten any negative feedback from potential visitors.

After the 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) opening time trial in hilly Jerusalem, the 167-kilometer (104-mile) second stage will whizz down the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Stage 3 will follow a lengthy 229-kilometer (143-mile) route – the second-longest leg of the entire race – from Beersheba in the Negev desert down to Israel’s southern tip of Eilat along the Red Sea.

The 176 cyclists are made up of 22 teams of eight, including the first two Israelis to participate in a Grand Tour event as part of the inaugural Israel Cycling Academy team. The race will then transfer to Italy, and the island of Sicily, for an early rest day on May 7.

All eyes will be on Froome. A victory at the Giro would make him the seventh rider to win all three Grand Tours – cycling’s top three stage races – and only the third to hold the three titles at the same time. After successfully defending his Tour de France title last year, the 32-year-old Froome went on to win the Spanish Vuelta for the first time.

In a surprise announcement, he then said he was going to participate in the Giro for the first time since 2010.

“The Giro is special and full of history, and I am looking forward to racing it again after almost a decade,” Froome said in a statement. “I’ve had a different start to the season as I’ve obviously been aiming to try and reach my peak quite a bit earlier than usual. But the target of going for a third consecutive Grand Tour has given me new motivation.”

He will also try to win the Tour for a record-equaling fifth time this year. No rider has completed a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.

Froome, a British cyclist who rides for Team Sky, will be racing in Israel under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. The International Cycling Union’s ruling on the case is expected after the Giro wraps up in Rome on May 27.

The event consists of 21 days of racing, totaling 3,546.2 kilometers (2,203.6 miles) with 44 kilometers (27 miles) of vertical elevation.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”