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Haifa, which presently has virtually no designated bicycle paths, has been chosen to host the 2010 European Mountain Bike Championship.

During the city's film festival held during the Sukkot holiday last year, a local couple approached Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav at the city's Cinemateque theater to lament that, unlike many other Israeli cities, Haifa lacks bicycle paths. A year later, the city is en route to becoming a cycling capital, adding to its reputation as a soccer and water sports hub.

In preparation for the 2010 Championship, a 17-kilometer track will soon be paved along the sea from Mount Carmel to the Atlit fortress south of the city. "We will nurture Haifa as a unique national center for cycling," Yahav said this weekend. "The cycling track along the sea will be the most beautiful and safest in the country, and the possibility of the combined riding experience of the Carmel mountains and the shoreline will be an attraction for riders from Israel and around the world."

The competition is expected to begin in July 2010 at the foothills of the Carmel. "It wasn't easy to convince the European committee to choose us," said Israel Bicycle Association Director General Emilio Rotman. "This won't be an easy track. There are plans for mountainous, muddy and wet sections. We picked Haifa because it's a significant city in Israel, and because we wanted, in addition to cyclists, to attract families and the general public to come and enjoy the city."

Rotman estimates that some 800 cyclists from 30 European countries will participate in the event. "This competition will launch ranking calculations ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. That's why I expect it to be important, and for many cyclists to arrive. World champions will come here," he said.