Come next Friday, Israel will be hosting the biggest sporting event in its history: the Giro d’Italia, the world’s fourth most watched sporting event and one of the premier Grand Tour bicycling races, will kick off a 21-day race from Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem segment will be a time trial for the cyclists, followed Saturday by a 167-kilometer race from Haifa to Tel Aviv and on Sunday by a 230-kilometer stretch from Be’er Sheva to Eilat before the riders move back to Italy.
Some 1 billion people are expected to watch the event, the first time that any segment of the Giro d’Italia will take place outside of Europe since it began in 1909. The Israeli government has invested tens of millions of shekels in the events in the hope of raising the country’s profile.
The man behind this effort is Sylvan Adams, a Canadian Jewish property developer with an estimated net work of $1.7 billion who immigrated to Israel several years ago. Adams contributed 70 million shekels ($19.5 million) to bring the race to Israel.
“I have two goals in bringing the Giro race to Israel,” he says. “The first is to show Israel to the rest of the world. Just like the French found a way to advance their culture through the Tour de France, the Italians have done the same with the Giro, and so I hope to show off our little country in the three days of the race. It’s really a unique opportunity to show all parts of the country to the rest of the world.”
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The other reason is Adams’ love for cycling. He only got interested in his 40s, but still managed to twice win world championships for 50-and-over cyclists. His exposure to the sport brought him in contact with the Giro d’Italia management, and from there he convinced them to stage part of this year’s competition in Israel.
Everyone is counting on Giro Israel to spur tourism, which he believes could reach 5 million, compared with a record 3.6 million visitors in 2017. He predicted that one day people looking back on the Israeli tourism industry would speak of the pre-Giro and post-Giro eras.
The Tourism Ministry itself is spending 6.25 million shekels on the event, including the hosting of 20 foreign journalists and for retaining a public relations firm to get the word out overseas.
“An international event on this scale is expected to attract to Israel thousands of tourists and contributes millions of shekels to the economy immediately,” said Amir Halevi, the ministry’s director general.
Those thousands will be coming to look at the cyclists, as will the hundreds of millions of people from more than 195 countries watching on television, but Halevi is counting in them to notice the scenic vistas, historic sites and balmy weather. Hundreds of journalists coming to visit the event will buttress that with articles and videos.
Daniel Benaim, whose Comtec Group, a sporting-events organizer, is handling the logistics, estimated the various ministries had contributed 25 million shekels to Giro Israel and that the Public Security Ministry agreed to absorb the 7 million in extra policing costs. Even the Prime Minister’s Office kicked in 1.25 million.
Benaim admits Israel isn’t quite ready to host an event like the Giro, both from the point of view of infrastructure and public interest in international profession cycling, which is small. Until the television and radio marketing campaign got underway a few days ago, few Israelis were aware of the event at all.
Eran Herschlag, editor of the sports website Shvoong, said the organizers are worried as much about Israelis coming out in big numbers as they are about the logistics of the event.
“In the Tour de France hundreds of thousands of spectators come out to see it and cheer the riders on along the route. In a country like Israel, which its modest bicycling culture, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts,” said Herschlag.
Then there is the issue of traffic jams as roads are closed for the race. The organizers are hedging their bets by bussing in spectators and making sure Israel’s cyclist community is there.
Still, he is hopeful. “It’s really the biggest sporting event ever staged here, and watching it doesn’t cost anything, and by next week I don’t think there will be anyone who hasn’t heard about the Giro.”
The race itself will bring 176 riders to Israel as well as scores of support personnel for each of the teams. Some 380 journalists will be flying in along with 10,000 tourists coming just for the race.
That could present problems at Ben-Gurion International Airport. “The last you thing you want is that a participant gets held up at passport control because his passport shows he visited Abu Dhabi,” he said.
On their way out of the country, there will be big logistical problems. Everyone will be leaving from Eilat’s Ova Airport – on May 6, three cargo planes will fly out all the teams’ gear and the next day four planes will bring all 800 riders and support staff to the next-stage races in Catania, Sicily.