Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN), Israel’s first professional cycling team, took part in a cycling tour in the United Arab Emirates, racing in Dubai on Sunday as part of the first stage of the UAE Tour, a top cycling event in the region.
The race began Sunday and will unfold over the next week, crossing all seven of the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm al-Quwain). The UAE Tour is the Middle East’s largest professional cycling race and the only one in the region that is part of the World Tour competition.
Israel Start-Up Nation is competing in the World Tour for the first time this season, as one of the world’s 19 largest professional cycling teams. As a World Tour competitor, the team gained automatic entry to the UAE Tour.
Israel and the UAE have no official diplomatic relations, but Israeli ties with regional Arab states have been warming over the past several years.
“Team Israel Startup Nation is excited to be competing in the UAE Tour for the first time in 2020. The participation in this race by our Israeli team in a Middle Eastern nation is emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress,” said ISN co-owner Sylvan Adams in a statement before the race.
“It is not an exaggeration to suggest that sport can be a force for peace, and this is one of the missions of Team ISN,” added the Israeli-Canadian philanthropist.
“Competing in the UAE in the team uniform is an inspiring moment,” said Israeli rider Omer Goldstein, a member of the team. “Until recently, it would have seemed like an unrealistic dream. In all honesty, I am still finding it hard to digest, but once I am on the start line, I will be fully focused on just one thing – helping the team win.”
Sign up for our free weekly newsletterSubscribe
The team said it was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception in the UAE. When the team arrived for training the Al Qudra Cycling park in Dubai, they said that surprised local cyclists had to get over their “initial shock to see the ‘Israel Startup Nation logo’ after which ‘some of them waived with friendly smiles and even asked for selfies.”
“It was amazing,” said Goldstein. “I wish we had a cycling path like that. We need to learn from the Emirates”.
In June, ISN will become the first Israeli team to compete in the Tour de France, the cycling world’s most prestigious race and the third most-watched sports event after the Summer Olympic Games and the World Cup. The team will carry 30 riders from 16 different nationalities, including four Israelis: Goldstein, Itamar Einhorn, Guy Niv, and Guy Sagiv. Some of the sport’s most experienced riders, including Andre Greipel, a professional road cyclist from Germany, Dan Martin, a two-time Tour de France stage winner from Ireland, and Dani Navarro, a pro cyclist from Spain, are also on the team.
The establishment of the team, co-owned by Adams and Israeli businessman Ron Baron, was first announced in December at Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), the Israeli non-profit organization that tracks the local innovation ecosystem. SNC lent its name to the team as a nod to Israel’s earned reputation as the country with the most startups per capita in the world.
Adams is a cycling enthusiast who played a major role in helping to build the Middle East’s first indoor velodrome in Tel Aviv. He also brought the Giro d’Italia to Israel last year where the multiple-stage bicycle race from Italy kicked off its “Big Start” in Jerusalem. Baron is the co-founder of the Israeli Cycling Academy, established in 2014 in Jerusalem as Israel’s first professional cycling team, with a vision to bring young cyclists “to the highest level of the sport.”
Last month, the team said it would work with a number of Israeli sports tech startups to pilot their relevant technology with the team’s objectives. The technologies will to help the cyclists better prepare, monitor and optimize performance based on advanced innovations that can track training load, nutrition, and sleep, among other factors.