Heard of Doctors Without Borders and Rabbis Without Borders? How about Cyclists Without Borders?
If such an organization existed, it likely would have been the brainchild of Ron Baron, founder of the Israel Cycling Academy, the first and only professional cycling team in Israel. ICA’s 30 riders (all male) hail from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic and, of course, Israel — 18 countries in total, all representing Israel, and based in Spain.
It’s a long way from Spain to Sacramento, but seven team members showed up in the state capital May 12 to compete in the Amgen Tour of California, a race that weaved its way from Sacramento, through the Bay Area, and ended in Pasadena on May 18. No single team among the 19 teams from around the world was more international than the ICA — and that is by design.
Dedicated to inspiring a new generation of cyclists in Israel, Baron realized there was not enough money or enough local riders to build a professional team in a country where soccer rules. So, in 2014, he founded ICA, which, according to its website, “began with the support of a world champion sprinter, an Israeli rock star, a former pro cyclist born and raised in Israel, a bike enthusiast investor, and a dream.”
— IsraelCyclingAcademy (@yallaACADEMY) May 18, 2019
Geography is not the only factor that separates this cycling squad from the rest of the pack. Unlike other teams that brand themselves by sponsor, ICA’s brand is Israel itself.
“We want to project a normal Israel,” says Baron, himself a rider who returned to his native Israel after living in Switzerland for many years. “We have no politics, no agenda. We are a philanthropic project.”
But they want to win, too.
“We want to be the team of the Jewish world,” Baron said
And while the riders understand the role they play in promoting Israel, they are still paid professionals with a competitive spirit. “I have a professional dream,” says Guy Sagiv, an Israeli on the team. “I am a competitive guy and I want to win races at the end of the day.”
Still, the 24-year-old acknowledges, “We have great owners who give their heart and soul to this team and let us live our dream. It is great to be involved with them. They feel their passion through us and we fulfill our dreams together.”
One of those dreams came true in 2018, when Sagiv literally became one of two Israeli “Guys” (Guy Niv was the other) to compete in the Giro d’Italia, which along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, make up cycling’s prestigious three-week Grand Tours of Europe.
“This was very special because it started in Jerusalem,” Sagiv recalls. “I am happy to represent Israel and happy to be able to do it all over the globe.” While this was Sagiv’s first trip to California, he notes that the team has also raced in Muslim and Arab countries. “Just carrying our name has impact.”
New Zealander Hamish Schreurs made stops in Belgium and France before joining the Israeli team. “After the first training camp, I knew I made the right decision,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or your nationality, you come together perfectly as one.”
Talking about what it feels like to ride for an Israeli team, Schreurs cites the March terrorist attacks at two mosques in his hometown of Christchurch.
“This is a good reason why I’m on this team,” he says. “There is so much hate in the world. It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re cut, you bleed. We all bleed the same color.”
The 25-year-old Schreurs, who has cycled through Israel, doesn’t hold back his frustration about media coverage of his adopted country, saying, “What the media portrays about Israel is complete bull—. Until you know yourself, why judge?”
Coming in 12th out of 19 teams (one of the six competing USA teams came in first), four ICA riders placed among the top 112 spots: Alexander Cataford at 23, Matteo Badilatti at 51, Sagiv at 100 and Roy Goldstein at 110.
Leaving the physically and mentally grueling tour of freeways, mountain roads and coastlines behind them, the team is keeping an eye on achieving cycling success as well as being a bridge builder for Israel and enhancing its image as a cycling country. Sagiv keeps it all in perspective.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “riders like to ride bikes.”