Israel Cycling Academy continental team approved by UCI

The newly-licensed UCI continental team has signed El Mehdi Chokri of Morocco, who will be the first Arab Muslim rider to ride for the team.

Israel Cycling Academy, the new Continental team, is launching its first racing season featuring young Israeli talent alongside international riders from around the world, including an Arab Muslim rider. El Mehdi Chokri, of Morocco, will be the first Arab Muslim rider to ride for the team.

While welcoming all, the team’s primary goal is to “help young Israeli riders bridge the gap from the national to the international level,” said the team’s manager, Aviad Israel. “Half of the team [are] Israeli riders, combined with talented riders from different countries, helping each other to achieve both personal and team goals.”

Chokri, 23, was at the UCI’s World Cycling Center from 2014 to 2016, to gather invaluable international experience. The Moroccan time trial champion rode for the Continental-ranked Dimension Data-Qhubeka team from 2017 to 2019. His palmares includes second in general classification in the Coupe des Nations de l’Espoir Blue Line, in 2018, and in the Tour de Cote d’Ivoire-Tour de la Reconciliation in 2016.

He had hoped to move up from the continental level this year, with his ultimate goal to be on a WorldTour team, and to ride the Tour de France. “I joined ICA to be a professional cyclist,” Chokri said. “I am looking to the future, and the WorldTour team.”

ICA Team Sport Director Zak Dempster says that Chokri fits right into the team in several ways. Despite good results, “things haven’t quite come together for him. We can support him and provide him with the right racing for his development stage and see if he can make it.”

“Also, we want as diverse a team as possible, with young people from all cultures and beliefs, to race together purely in the name of sport.”

Another African rider on the team also has a fascinating background. Awet Gebremedhin, 28, grew up in dire poverty in Eritrea. He first raced at the age of 15, and eventually became part of the national junior-, and U23 team. He eventually had success at that level, and rode the U23 World Championships in Florence, in 2013.

There, Gebremedhin made the challenging decision that he must leave his homeland to pursue his dream of becoming a pro cyclist. He sought asylum in Sweden, but because of failing paperwork, he was unable to compete for two years, which he calls “the worst years of my life.” He finally was able to join the Ner Group-Marco Polo team, before moving up to the continental team. In 2018, he signed with the Israel Cycling Academy, where he rode the 2019 Giro d’Italia, finishing 128th as the first Eritrean to ride that race.

At the ICA, Chokri will be one of 16 riders, ranging in age from 19 to 31. Half of the riders are Israelis, the other half coming from Canada, Eritrea, will not only help mentor the youngsters, but they’ll bring in results for the team.

The ICA has been licensed as a continental team by the UCI and will make its debut at the Youngster Coast Challenge, in Belgium, on March 20.

Israel Cycling Academy team 2020:
Saned Abu-Fares (ISR)
Edwin Avila (COL)
Ido Bear (ISR)
Yuval Ben Moshe (ISR)
El Mehdi Chokri (MAR)
Lahav Davidzon (ISR)
Awet Gebremedhin (ERI-SWE)
Edo Goldstein (ISR)
Shlomo Haimy (ISR)
Omer Lahav (ISR)
Eitan Levi (ISR)
Carson Miles (CAN)
Freddy Ovett (AUS)
Benjamin Perry (CAN)
Robin Plamandon (CAN)
Daniel Turek (CZE)