History in Israel as Giro d’Italia's Big Start rolls off in Jerusalem

History in Israel as Giro d’Italia’s Big Start rolls off in Jerusalem

For the first time in history, 176 of the world’s top cyclists kicked off the Giro d’Italia against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City.

By: World Israel News Staff, AP and TPS

Thousands of spectators on Friday lined Jerusalem’s streets to watch the first Giro d’Italia cycling race ever held outside of Europe.

The cyclists passed Israel’s parliament, the Supreme Court, the Israel Museum and the Hebrew University on their route through the city.

Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands won the first stage of the 101st Giro with a 9.8 km individual time trial of 12:02 minutes.

The Grande Partenza (Big Start) saw 176 of the world’s top cyclists from 22 teams begin the competition against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Teams from Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), neither of which has diplomatic ties with Israel, are competing.

“I’m glad I took the decision to take the Giro d’Italia to Israel” race director Mauro Vegni told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

Jerusalem’s opening leg was named in honor of Gino Bartali, a three-time former Giro champion who in 2013 was posthumously named a Righteous Among the Nations, Israel’s highest honor given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team, was among the teams participating in the race.

On Friday morning, ahead of the start of the race, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the Israeli team and wished them success.  “The whole country will be behind you. It’s a great moment for Israel and Israeli sports,” Netanyahu stated.

Giro d’Italia is the biggest and most prestigious sporting event staged in Israel and coincides with the Jewish state’s 70th anniversary.

Elia Viviani, who won the second stage of the race the next day, cycling from Haifa to Tel Aviv in less than four hours, said he was pleasantly surprised by the crowds.

“This is definitely something I will take home with me. It is not a given when you go to a new country that maybe doesn’t have a long tradition that you are welcomed with such a crowd,” he said. “That is the most surprising thing for me.”

Day Three began in Be’er Sheva and passed through southern Israel to finish at the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

From Eilat, the riders and their staffs will fly to Catania, Sicily, from where they will climb the Italian boot to Cervinia on the border with Switzerland. From Cervinia, the Giro will move on May 27th to Rome for the 21st and last stage.