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Israel Start-Up Nation eyes July return to racing

Teams wants to jump-start its stalled racing program at Sibiu Tour in Romania.

European bike racing could resume earlier than expected. While the WorldTour calendar is on hold until August, other races originally slated for July remain on the schedule.

Israel Start-Up Nation confirmed Saturday it will race the Sibiu Cycling Tour in Romania with its continental team from July 2-5 if health conditions allow. It’s part of the team’s plans to squeeze the most out of the reduced 2020 racing schedule, with the goal of racing 42 races in four months.

“It’s great for the riders and the team to have a few races to look forward to during July,” ISN manager Kjell Carlstrom said in a team release. “There we can make sure that we are on the right track with everything regarding a safe restart of the race calendar. We will be racing with mixed teams – ISN WorldTour team and our Continental Israel Cycling Academy team — and make sure that all our protocols are working well.”

The team will use the Sibiu race — which includes Egan Bernal and Ivan Sosa among its former winners — to unveil some of its internal safety protocols as well as give riders a chance to stretch their legs for the first time since racing ground to a halt in mid-March.

Sibiu race officials confirmed they still plan to hold the 2.1-ranked race as scheduled if health conditions allow and if travel restrictions currently in place are lifted.

The Sibiu race is part of a series of races the team hopes to start ahead of the WorldTour revival, scheduled for August 1 with Strade Bianche in Italy. Other July events include Dokola Mazowza, July 15-18 in Poland, and the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain in late July. Burgos race officials, however, are considering canceling their event, and are expected to make a decision early next week.

The team already held a training camp in Israel earlier this month for its riders based there in what was among the first efforts by a WorldTour team to blow out the cobwebs following the unprecedented coronavirus stoppage.

“The traditional model of one big training camp for all is not realistic at this time,” Carlstrom said. “So we will need to adapt.”

The team especially wants to test its Israeli riders in the early races in hopes of having at least one of them ready to race to the Tour de France, now scheduled to begin in late August. The team is hoping to bring an Israeli rider to the Tour for the first time in race history.

“It looks like the world is slowly returning to pre-pandemic normalcy, with some prudent adjustments, of course, for the sake of protecting our riders’ and staff’s health to the greatest extent possible,” said team co-owner Sylvan Adams. “I can assure all our supporters that Israel Start-Up Nation will be ready to race in Romania, our first race, the Sibiu Tour, on the new calendar.”

Tour de France team captain Dan Martin likely won’t be racing at Sibiu, but will be testing his legs in early races if conditions allow across Europe.

“I am incredibly motivated to pin on a number and get some big results for ISN in what a truly unprecedented season has been. It’s a congested calendar, so picking a route through it and setting goals is tricky, plus weather conditions will be different in the races to the standard, but I’m looking forward to it,” Martin said. “It remains to be seen what the circumstances that we race under will be, but I’m confident the team will be prepared for whatever those conditions are and can’t wait to get racing again.”

Veteran sprinter André Greipel cautioned that racing can only begin if health conditions allow it, but insisted he will be ready to race this season. The team’s schedule gets busier in August, with WorldTour races back on the schedule, along with second-category races in Czech Republic, France, and Hungary.

“I am still doing groceries with a face mask, people are still dying of corona, and therefore it sometimes feels a little strange that we are thinking about racing again,” he said. “Nobody knows if the virus will spread again, and I think we should not force racing if it is unsafe. However, if the race season restarts, I will be ready. That’s for sure.”