The Giro d'Italia, one of the world's most prestigious cycling races, will start its next race not in the hills of Tuscany or on the Alpine slopes, but on the ancient streets of Jerusalem.
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The storied race, first organized in 1909, will hold three stages in Israel in May 2018, Italian officials said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because an official announcement is planned for later this month.
The Jerusalem stage will be a time trial while the next two will be road races, probably in southern Israel. The exact routes are still being discussed, as organizers seek to avoid crossing into "sensitive" areas, like the West Bank or East Jerusalem, which could spark protests against the race, officials said.
According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, one spot that is sure to be on the route is Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust memorial, as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with helping save hundreds of Italian Jews during World War II.
Bartali was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations because in Nazi-occupied central Italy between 1943 and 1944, he would zip around the countryside – ostensibly training – while carrying forged papers concealed in the frame and handlebar of his bike for Jewish families hiding in houses and convents across the region.
He also hid and supported a Jewish family in an apartment he owned in Florence, according to Yad Vashem.
Bartali won the Giro in 1936, 1937 and 1947, and triumphed in the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948, the other major race for professional road cyclists. Bartali died in 2000 and rarely spoke of his clandestine wartime activities, which only came to light in recent years thanks to his son and testimonies from those he had helped.
According to reports, Israel's only professional cycling team, the Israel Cycling Academy, is expected to be a wildcard participant in the next Giro.
While this will be the first time the race kicks off outside Europe, it is not unusual for the Giro to start outside of Italy. The starting line was placed in The Netherlands in 2016, Northern Ireland in 2014 and Denmark in 2012.