FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Rocket strikes and growing international protests centered on Jerusalem have prompted Giro d’Italia organizers to consider a backup plan for 2018. Next year’s race is due to become the first grand tour to begin outside of Europe on May 4 in Israel’s ancient city.
RCS Sport’s top brass in Milan are considering a “plan B” in case the political situation does not improve, according to sources. Violence, protests, and international condemnation have increased in the last week since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel has always considered Jerusalem its capital but Palestine claims East Jerusalem — occupied by Israel since the 1967 War — as the future capital of a long-sought Palestinian state.
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The scenario is far from ideal for a race organizer planning a massive million-dollar event in just five months’ time.
RCS Sport, celebrating its 101st Giro in 2018, considers the race a pink party. The host city for the big start typically comes alive in various shades of pink. Start cities Amsterdam (2016), Belfast (2014), and Alghero (2017), exemplified this when they embraced the three-week Italian tour. Jerusalem, always a contested city, must consider security over pink balloons and banners for the 176 professional cyclists.
The race had a brush with regional violence in 2014 when a car bomb was discovered in Dublin hours before the Giro’s stage 3 in Ireland. Race organizers said the 50-pound device was unrelated to the event.
Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on Friday. Israeli military retaliated with targeted strikes the next day. Reports say four people have died. Eight nations, including Italy, have called on the United Nations to hold an urgent meeting following Trump’s move and the reactions it provoked.
RCS Sport is reportedly considering a worst-case-scenario plan B option that could see the race start in Italy’s south. Instead of three Israel stages, the 2018 Giro d’Italia could tour the toe of Italy’s boot in Puglia and move west over three stages. On the island of Sicily, it would continue as planned with stage 4 from Catania.
Another possibitity, which cycling director Mauro Vengni pointed out in September, is starting the race from Catania.
“I already have a plan B, all-Italian, but it will have to truly be a last-ditch scenario,” Vegni told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Anyway, keep in mind that our foreign minister is following the big start plans at every pass.
“I have the possibility of inserting in the Giro route, between the south and central Italy, three stages to replace those Israeli stages. But, I’ll repeat, this would be a true extreme solution, which I don’t really want to think about.”
Vegni and RCS Sport had yet to reply with an updated plan based on the current tensions when contacted for this article.
Already before the 2018 route announcement November 29, RCS Sport was pushed by international groups to reconsider its starting location. The Giro, however, hoped to keep politics out of the race.
The Giro is due to begin with a 9.7-kilometer time trial in the holy city of Jerusalem, which is contested and divided by the Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Armenians. Its second stage travels to Tel Aviv and the third heads south to the resort town of Eilat.
The secondary plans would see the Giro stay completely within Italy’s borders for 2018, something that did not even happen when the race celebrated its 100th edition this May. The route briefly passed through Switzerland in the Stelvio stage, when eventual winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) had to stop for an emergency toilet break.
Much is riding on the Jerusalem start. RCS Sport will want to push ahead with its planned Israeli stages assuming all is safe. It will receive an estimated €10 million from Israel according to VeloNews sources. The local organizer is also said to be kicking in a large sum, upward of €2 million, for Chris Froome (Sky) to race.
The association of teams (AIGCP) was unavailable for comment for this article.
President of the CPA riders union Gianni Bugno told VeloNews, “We need to have a plan A and B. If it remains how it is now in Israel, it’s not great, but we need to see how the situation changes when the team nears. The CPA will leave the decision to the organizer and the UCI governing body to decide what’s safe and what’s not. They need to decide if it’s worth going.”