A few years ago, when the Tour de France made its Grand Départ here in the UK, there were small groups of anti-Israel protesters drawn to the route to wave their flags and banners as the riders rushed by. There were no Israelis in the race and no connection to Israel whatsoever but the allure of potentially appearing on the global TV footage was enough for their campaign.
Fast forward to 2020 and weaving through the French streets lined with masked spectators are the blue and white colours of the Israel Start-up Nation (ISN) cycling team making their Tour de France debut. The Tour involves cyclists in teams of 8 which are usually named after corporate sponsors. I try to follow the Tour de France every summer and of course cheer on some of the Brits battling for the Yellow Jersey but until now I can’t say I’ve ever really supported a team.
As I watch the aerial footage of the peloton, I find myself looking for the distinctive Israeli national coloured jerseys and the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem logo on the shorts. I am cheering on their riders as they fight to get into breakaways or attempt to sprint for a stage win. The team includes Guy Niv, the first ever Israeli to start the Tour de France, and he is joined by riders from Ireland, Germany, Belgium, France and Latvia. As the team’s name suggests, ISN are here to showcase their background and, on the first Friday night of the Tour, ISN tweeted a picture of their owner, Sylvan Adams, and Niv explaining kiddish prayers to their multinational teammates before their meal.
My new found enthusiasm for this cycling team though is not simply explained by my Zionist instincts but by the clear ambition shown by the team as a whole. ISN might be a relative new comer at this level of cycling but they are clearly here to succeed. Earlier this year they made headlines in the UK by signing the 4-time Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, to join the team from 2021. Froome is still to fully recover from a severe crash last year but his addition shows both the aspirations of ISN and Froome’s belief in their project.
The team’s social media output is clear that they desire success and is honest when they have had a disappointing day. So far in this year’s Tour, ISN have had four top 10 finishes and they are clearly pushing for a historic stage win. Israel is not well known for appearing on the top stages of world sport but ISN is clearly here to make an impression and is making their country proud. I don’t know if they will find success at the 2020 Tour de France but I know they will keep pushing over the next two weeks and I will continue to watch with pride as the Israeli colours make their way through France.
The Tour de France might have had nothing to do with Israel a few years ago but let’s hope Israel Start-up Nation continues to represent at the Tour for years to come.