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Israel Cycling Academy aims to be pro cycling’s most diverse team

The team’s 22-rider line-up includes riders from five continents and 16 countries, representing the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

Is Israel Cycling Academy the peloton’s most diverse team? It’s selling itself that way.

Cycling went global more than a decade ago. Most WorldTour teams pack nearly a dozen passports on their respective rosters. Yet Israel Cycling Academy is taking it to a new level in 2018. The team’s 22-rider line-up includes riders from five continents and 16 countries, representing the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

How many teams feature riders who are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim all under the same banner? Israel Cycling Academy might be the first.

The Pro Continental team was already unique before unveiling its 2018 lineup Thursday. As Israel’s first professional cycling team, the squad has been breaking ground since its founding in 2015 as it tries to create a toehold for the sport in Israel.

For next season, the team wants to raise the bar even more. It’s targeting a start in the Giro d’Italia — almost a guarantee with the Giro starting in Jerusalem — but it’s also trying to use cycling as a means to break down barriers. Officials confirmed they have signed an 18-year-old Druze rider for its development team. They hope to incorporate more Arab and Palestinian riders in the coming seasons.

In September, the team announced it signed Turkish national time trial champion Ahmet Örken, a practicing Muslim who will race on the Israeli-backed team. There are not many Muslims racing at the elite level. Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin is one of the few at the WorldTour level. There are even fewer Jewish riders. Having all three major religions under one banner is an important symbolic gesture.

“The fact that a Turkish cyclist is competing side by side with Israeli cyclists and others from around the world, and striving together for victory sends a message of coexistence and peace to all,” Örken said. “The Academy does not see itself as just a cycling team, I don’t see myself just as a cyclist. We have the opportunity to excite and inspire people, and to change the world around us.”

Mixing bikes, religion, and diverse nationalities might appear toxic at first glance, but erasing those barriers via bicycle racing is one of the principal concepts behind the Israel Cycling Academy project.

It was originally built to develop racing in Israel and promote its homegrown talent. The team’s ambitions have since grown with the arrival of new backers to also serve as a chance for Israel to tell a different side of its story often unseen by the wider public.

At the Giro d’Italia presentation last month in Jerusalem, Giro and Israeli officials confirmed the opening stages for the 2018 Giro. Team officials were keen to promote the idea that the racers will also serve as ambassadors of a new Israel.

“Our athletes understand that being on an Israeli team, they are each ambassadors for the team’s home country,” said Sylvan Adams, one of the team’s owners. “The power of our ICA project is to bring this diverse group together to ride under our Israeli colors in pursuit of common goals.”

Marketing campaigns aside, new signings for 2018 give the team a stronger footing across the European calendar.

The team has picked up a few key established pros to help it in its bid to earn a Giro wild-card start. Among 10 new arrivals are Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), Ruben Plaza (Orica-Scott), and Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data), all three from WorldTour teams. Five other riders are from Israel.

For riders and staff on the team, however, those labels and slogans don’t mean much when it comes joining together to race bikes.

“We want to be competitive and win races,” said team manager Ran Margaliot in September. “With the riders we have now, our goal is to be competitive in every race we start.”

The team has a scheduled training camp in Spain in December. By the time racing season hits, results are what will count most, not passports.

Israel Cycling Academy roster

Edwin Alvila (Colombia, 27)
Guillaume Boivin (Canada, 28)
Zak Dempster (Australia, 30)
Jose Manuel Diaz (Spain, 22)
Nathan Earle (Australia, 29)
Sondre Holst Enger (Norway, 23)
Omer Goldstein (Israel, 21)
Roy Goldstein (Israel, 24)
Ben Hermans (Belgium, 31)
August Jensen (Norway, 26)
Luis Lemus (Mexico, 25)
Krists Neilands (Latvia, 23)
Guy Niv (Israel, 23)
Ahmet Örken (Turkey, 24)
Ben Perry (Canada, 23)
Ruben Plaza (Spain, 37)
Mihkel Raim (Estonia, 24)
Guy Sagiv (Israel, 22)
Kristian Sbaragli (Italy, 27)
Hamish Schreurs (New Zealand, 23)
Daniel Turek (Czech Republic, 24)
Dennis van Winden (Netherlands, 29)
Tyler Williams (USA, 22)
Aviv Yechezkel (Israel, 23)