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.

Norway takes gold-medal lead at world road cycling titles

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WOLLONGONG, Australia – Soren Waerenskjold repeated Norway’s gold medal success at the world road cycling championships a day after Tobias Foss finished first in the elite men’s time trial.

Waerenskjold won the men’s under-23 time trial on the second day of the championships with a dominant performance. He clocked 34 minutes, 13.40 seconds over the 28.8-kilometer course to beat Belgian Alec Segaert by 16.34 seconds.

British rider Leo Hayter, the younger brother of elite rider Ethan Hayter, was 24.16 seconds off the pace for the bronze medal.

Foss beat a strong field to win the elite time trial, the biggest win of his career.

Norway has two gold medals, while Dutch ace Ellen van Dijk beat Australian Grace Brown to take out the women’ elite time trial.

The mixed relay time trial is set for Wednesday. The championships conclude on the weekend with the women’s road race on Saturday and the men’s on Sunday.

Ellen van Dijk defends time trial title at cycling worlds

95th UCI Road World Championships 2022 - Women Individual Time Trial
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WOLLONGONG, Australia – Ellen van Dijk defended her title and claimed a third women’s time trial gold medal at the opening event of the world road cycling championships on Sunday.

Taking advantage of a technical course the Dutch star maintained a perfectly paced cadence to beat Australia’s Grace Brown by 12.79 seconds to defend the time trial gold she won last year. Swiss rival Marlen Reusser took bronze.

Local favorite Brown was one of the early staters and set a blistering time around the 34.2 kilometer (21.3 miles) course at the scenic coastal town center of Wollongong, south of Sydney.

No other in the 45-strong field could get close to Brown’s time of 44 minutes 41.33 seconds until the final pair of van Dijk and Reusser, who claimed silver at last year’s world championships in Belgium, both clocked faster at the first time check.

Reusser then faded to finish more than 41 seconds off Brown’s time, but van Dijk powered on to claim her third gold medal in a time of 44:28.60.

Olympic time trial champion and two-time world champion Annemiek van Vleuten finished seventh, more than 90 seconds behind compatriot van Dijk.

Later Sunday, Vuelta a Espana winner Remco Evenepoel from Belgium, Italian two-time defending world champion Filippo Ganna and two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia headline the men’s event.

Other major races are the mixed relay time trial on Wednesday and the women’s road race next Saturday before the men’s race on the closing day Sunday, with local star and Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley racing the clock to recover from COVID-19 to take his place in the race.