The City of Tel Aviv is officially home to the Middle East’s first indoor velodrome cycling racetrack, after receiving formal certification this week from the world governing body for sports cycling, the Switzerland-based Union Cycliste Internationale, for its Olympic-standard track (which is still under construction).
The municipality held an event on-site at the Yarkon Park, adjacent to the Olympic Building-National Sports Cente, on Tuesday to mark the occasion, hosting a group of professional cyclists, city officials, and journalists at the dedication ceremony for the cycling arena.
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Sylvan Adams, the Canadian-Israeli cycling enthusiast who played a major role in helping to build the velodrome in Tel Aviv, was all smiles at the event.
“Union Cycliste Internationale came here today and I am happy to tell you that we passed. So, the velodrome track is officially certified [for international competitions],” said Adams, a masters track world champion, and billionaire philanthropist.
Adams said he has already sent an application to the world governing body for sports cycling saying that the Tel Aviv velodrome would like to host the 2021 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships.
At the moment, the velodrome lacks a roof and its inner area is still under construction with steel rods protruding everywhere. But the steeply banked oval track is ready for riding and Adams led a group of professional cyclists – foreign and domestic – around the circular bends and along the wooden tracks to show journalists what it means to ride on a velodrome track.
“I think many countries in the world would like a track like this,” German track cyclist Robert Förstemann, known as the most muscular cyclist in the world, tells NoCamels.
Förstemann was in Tel Aviv to join members of the Israel Cycling Academy in testing the racetrack for the first time on May 1. “It’s a really, really fast track. I tried some moves on it. It’s really good wood. I think when the roof is completed, this will be one of the fastest tracks in the world,” he says.
“This track is a fantastic track. This has got the potential to be a world record team pursuit track,” Steve McEwen, Track Sprint Talent Coach – Netherlands National Team, tells Nocamels. “I can see bringing other countries to race here.”
And that’s exactly what Adams and the Tel Aviv Municipality are hoping for.
“Three years ago, this ‘cycling meshuga’ [crazy cycling enthusiast] came to me and said that it was unacceptable that Tel Aviv didn’t have a professional cycling facility,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at the dedication ceremony in reference to Adams. “The municipality joined his mission and in a few months’ time we will officially inaugurate the velodrome, the first Olympic bicycle racing arena in Israel.”
The municipality invested some 70 million shekels ($20 million) in the velodrome project, which is meant to be finished by September. The arena will seat 620 people. The adjacent building will include doctors’ offices, drug test labs, cycling stores, a cafeteria and dressing rooms.
Mayor Huldai sees the velodrome as a place to host global races.
“We know how to host the most important competitions in the world. We will do the same in the bicycle industry thanks to this amazing facility,” says Huldai, referring to last week’s 2018 European Championships for Judo that were held in Tel Aviv.
“We will be able to host international competitions, we will bring people to Israel, we will show Israel on international TV during those competitions,” says Adams.
Theme of goodwill
The velodrome’s dedication ceremony took place a few days before the opening of the Giro d’Italia, one of cycling’s three grand tours, which kicks off in Jerusalem on Friday, reaching Tel Aviv on Saturday. Israeli model and actress Bar Refaeli as the official presenter of the event.
Adams is also in great part responsible for the Giro d’Italia’s decision to start in the Israeli capital on May 4 and end in Rome on May 21.
“We suggested that it would be symbolically very fitting to trace a route from Jerusalem to Rome,” Adams told Cycling Magazine about the route proposal. “It sends a message of peace and fraternity.”
In fact, the theme of goodwill through sport is a strong component for Adams.
“We are the first indoor velodrome in the Middle East, which means we have a regional facility. If our neighbors, who don’t have a facility like this, want to take up the sport of cycling, they can come here,” said Adams. “We hope to host international competitions here, including with the participation of our neighbors in the region, with the aim of using sport to lay the groundwork for being good neighbors and bringing nations together. It sounds crazy. But we’re closer to this than you think.”
The Middle East has several velodromes, including in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran, but they’re all outdoor and not all are Olympic-standard of 250 meters in circumference.
Adams noted that two teams not usually associated with the Jewish State are coming to the Giro this weekend.
“Bahrain and UAE teams are coming to compete in Israel. This is a remarkable thing. We reach our hands out to our neighbors. We have an indoor velodrome. The only one in the region. We can train together, learn together and compete together. This is the magic of sport. And this is one of the reasons I’m a meshugane.”
The Amsterdam of Israel
The real estate mogul who moved to Israel from Canada in 2015, is on a mission to improve Israel’s image through sports and raise awareness about cycling. He is thrilled that an estimated one billion TV viewers will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride across the country this weekend.
In addition to promoting Israel’s image through sport abroad, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the Israel Cycling Federation, the Israel Cycling Academy, and the Tel Aviv Foundation are hoping that when the velodrome opens its doors it will develop and promote competitive and recreational cycling at home.
“All the cycling projects I’m involved in have two themes: firstly, to promote the image of this country. And my second objective is to develop the sport of cycling,” said Adams, who is a co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, a major donor to the velodrome, Honorary President of the Giro’s “Big Start” in Israel, and the initiator of a $21.5 million sports institute at Tel Aviv University.
Mayor Huldai announced that because of Adams’s generous philanthropy to the city’s projects and its cycling culture, in particular, the velodrome will be named for the bike-crazy billionaire.
With cycling awareness at its height, local biking organizations and the municipality are hoping Tel Aviv will become the “Amsterdam of the Middle East.”
“The cycling revolution is already underway in Tel Aviv,” said Huldai. “We have become a city of bicycles, where people ride to work instead of driving private cars. The velodrome will provide a solution for track cyclists and will promote professional sports activities.”
Indeed, Tel Aviv has become synonymous with cyclists. There are bike paths along the city’s tree-lined boulevards, on most major roads and a fantastic bike path along the seafront. Like elsewhere in the world, Tel Aviv has a bike-share program with some 2,000 bikes for hire around the city.
The city also hosts a huge bicycle festival in October, drawing some 40,000 riders to the annual happening.
The flat city is considered perfect for cycling – save for traffic accidents. According to National Road Safety Authority statistics, drivers of vehicles kill over a dozen cyclists every year in Israel.
The velodrome’s appeal is that it is an indoor track and the nearest cars are in a parking lot outside.
“This velodrome is a gift to the youth of Israel,” says Adams.
“This is a safe environment. We can get kids on bikes,” McEwen, of the Netherlands National Team, tells Nocamels. “Parents don’t have to worry. Kids will go home with a big, huge smile on their face. And that may eventually lead to kids then going on to the world championships.”
McEwen says Israel will produce “a junior rider at the world championships within three years.”
Adams concurs: “We will have Israeli athletes competing in the world championships.”
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com