Road

Israel Start-Up Nation anticipates ‘teething problems’ as it starts new path with Chris Froome

Team looking to forge identity and focus early as it brings in wide swathe of talent to support Tour de France ambitions.

Israel Start-Up Nation is braced for kinks as it opens the book at “Chapter Froome.”

The team has signed up a swathe of top talents for 2021, but recognizes money won’t buy team dynamic and racing acumen – at least, not straight away.

“We’ll have so many new guys coming in, for sure there’s going to be some teething problems,” Michael Woods told VeloNews. “You can’t just have a cohesive team straightaway.”

Woods is one of the many top stars joining Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021 as the squad becomes near-unrecognizable from the outfit that made its WorldTour debut last season. The Canadian is one of nine new faces joining the team this year as seven of the 2020 roster go out the back door, including previously central figures Nils Politt and Rory Sutherland.

The arrival of Woods, Chris Froome, Daryl Impey, Sep Vanmarcke and a bevvy of other top talent will give Sylvan Adams one of the deepest squads in the WorldTour next year. The multi-millionaire backer’s big budget and big ambition has given Israel Start-Up nation a pick ‘n’ mix squad of riders drawn from across the peloton as it braces ahead of a Tour de France challenge with Froome.

The wallet has been opened, and the next task is to bring together a gang of strangers into a functioning team capable of taking a yellow jersey.

“We obviously stepped up from 2019 to 2020, and we’ll be doing that even more in 2021 – but we’re still the underdogs,” newly appointed sport director Cherie Pridham told VeloNews last month. “It won’t be plain sailing making it work straight away, but we’re committed to making it happen. And a lot of these new guys are long-term deals, and we know there’s time to grow.”

Froome has landed an open-ended deal with the Israeli squad as he prepares to ride out his career with Adams and Co. Meanwhile, Woods, Impey and other faces for the future, like Carl Fredrik Hagen and Patrick Bevin, clutch fresh multi-year contracts. The long-term commitments of Israel-Start Up Nation’s 2021 cohort shows that management is committed to ironing out any initial wrinkles, no matter how long that takes.

“I’ve signed for a three-year contract with the team, Froome signed on for long-term, and a lot of other guys have long deals,” Woods said. “This is a long-term project, so even if we don’t have success right off the bat, I think we’re committed to making this a project that is successful, even if it doesn’t come straight away.”

The team is currently on a training camp in Girona – albeit without Froome – as it looks to harmonize its 32-man mix of riders. Having only just started to bind together 2020’s collection of riders from Katusha Alpecin and Israel Cycling Academy after the two squads merged at the start of last year, nine new names with backgrounds as diverse as South Africa, Italy and Norway have been thrown into the pot.

Those in the team are hoping that elite staffers and the accumulated experience of veteran figureheads Woods, Impey, Froome and Dan Martin will help bind the roster into a unit.

“There’s a lot of experience coming on board – it’s not like we’re spring chickens – and I think that will make the process quite manageable. And there’s some amazing minds at the helm, like Paulo [Saldhana, performance director] is such an amazing mind for performance,” Woods said. “I think because of all that knowledge the early transition will be quite manageable.”

The experience in the team isn’t just on the road, but also in the team car, with sport directors Dirk Demol and Oscar Guerrero both boasting nearly tw0 decades of calling the shots in top-tier racing.

“Guys like Dirk, or Oscar Guerrero, these DSs that have been there and done that,” Pridham said. “This team has the know-how.  And as a management group, we’re all on the same page, and have confidence. If we didn’t believe in Chris, then we haven’t started the battle as far as I’m concerned. We have faith in all our riders for next year.”

Adams expects big things from Froome and his new-look squad this year, and the world is waiting with bated breath for the team to open the page at its new chapter. Be prepared for a few typos in the first draft, because the team is too.