JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will host the three opening stages of next year’s Giro d‘Italia, the first time a cycling classic race will be held outside Europe, organisers said on Monday.
The 101st edition of the Giro will open with a 10.1 kilometre individual time trial on May 4 in Jerusalem, followed by road races on the next two days, between Haifa and Tel Aviv (167-km) and Beersheba and Eilat (226-km).
The Giro, along with the Tour de France and Spain’s Vuelta comprise the world’s three major cycling tours.
“For us, who for years have spoken about internationalisation of the Giro, to come to Israel is a unique opportunity to talk about Italy in this country,” Giro administrator Mauro Vegni said at the launch.
The event has also been embraced by Israeli authorities aiming to boost tourism and is set to be one of the largest international sports events ever staged in the country, as it celebrates 70 years since its founding in 1948.
“It’s a great honour for us to host the Giro d‘Italia, it shows the world has confidence in the ability of the state of Israel to organise a very big sports event,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Reuters.
He said he did not expect political pressures to disrupt the race, and maps provided by the organisers show that the stages will be run in territory held by Israel before the 1967 Middle East war.
Although Israel is situated on the western edge of Asia, its sports organisations are affiliated with Europe. Around 200 riders are expected to compete.
Israel hopes to enter a wild-card team, said Canadian-born Israeli Sylvan Adams, one of the organisers, who added that it was he who persuaded Giro officials to bring the race to the country.
Former Giro winners Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso, who attended the launch, said the course in a new, untested environment would require careful tactical consideration by teams looking to gain an early advantage.
“All the bunch is fresh and each team will want their leader to take the pink jersey,” Basso said.
“The first time trial is not easy with a lot of turns and up and down and the second stage along the coast, and the third in the desert, possibly with a lot of wind - it will not be an easy start for the race.”
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Christian Radnedge