When Ben Hermans triumphantly crossed the finish line at the final stage of the Tour of Utah on Sunday it marked the culmination of an important period for Israel Cycling Academy. Hermans’ team came up short at the Tour of California earlier this season, but has since picked up momentum with wins in Austria, Italy, and now Utah. Indeed, the thrilling week of aggressive, high-altitude racing ended a whirlwind of big news and growth for the ever-evolving squad.
Earlier in the week, the team announced they’d signed two-time Tour de France stage winner Dan Martin as its GC leader for 2020. The move is an important step in securing an invite to next year’s Tour de France, a long-time goal for the program that started in 2014.
“Ben finished this race in second place last year but he also won the Tour of Austria, and so I think he went to the second part of the season quite well,” said sport director René Andrle. “I think we were controlling the race quite well. And he won two stages, so that’s also quite good for us.”
Several of the team’s riders, including Hermans, have yet to sign contracts for next season. Hermans, who previously spent 8 years on the WorldTour, originally joined the squad looking for leadership opportunities. Now he’s discussing a possible contract extension and insists it has nothing to do with his recent results. It’s also not clear whether the Belgian would take a supporting role for Martin, or if the pair would share leadership duties.
“I have not made a decision,” Hermans said about his future racing plans. “I don’t think it will affect my decision if they go to the WorldTour or not. Of course it would be nice if we go to the WorldTour, but if we don’t go we also have a really nice program. This year we did a lot of big races.”
“[I enjoy being on a team that has] a different program and not only does the big WorldTour races,” he added. “And I really like Dan Martin as a person and as a rider. It’s more or less the same type as me, so it would be really nice to work together with him, to help him when he’s good and maybe he can help me when I’m in better shape.”
Colombian Edwin Avila is also looking to renew with Israel Cycling Academy after racing this week as a super domestique for Hermans. The 29-year-old marked the break nearly every day, finishing third in the stage 1 finishing sprint after a strong push to bridge to the lead group in the final kilometers. During Sunday’s thrilling finale up and over Empire Pass, it was Avila pacing his leader for several kilometers up the climb before a dropped chain forced him out of the front group.
“I started out on the track as a sprinter so I have the speed,” Avila said. “Each year, I am feeling better in the climbs, so I am working hard and doing more for the team. I won the GC at GP Berias this season, and so it’s good for me that I am improving each year, but also that I don’t lose my speed from where I started.”
Israel’s only professional cycling team has come a long way in only a few years since making the jump to pro continental status. The win in Utah was an important milestone, but there’s still much work to do if they want to be competitive in France next July.
“It’s difficult to say where we need improvement because in the last 5 years we have taken really big steps, which I think everybody can see it,” Andrle said. “I think that year by year we will be better, and who knows if we will be in the future the best team of the world.”