Carrying the burden: Dark horse Israeli team thrilled to race Colorado
Steamboat Springs — For Team Cycling Academy, the “welcome to big-time cycling” was a hard floor in a cold Salt Lake City airport.
Simply racing in the USA Pro Challenge is the best thing that’s happened to the team in its brief nine months of existence, and the squad, based in Israel, was ecstatic to make the trip to the United States, all the way up until swirling funnel clouds dropping from thunderstorms over Denver forced their flight to divert.
Still, they’d already come so far and a rotten night’s sleep wasn’t about to derail them.
Riding for a cause
Plenty of teams and cyclists in this year’s USA Pro Challenge field ride with a special purpose.
Team Novo Nordisk is comprised entirely of riders with Type 1 diabetes and seeks to be an example for others with the disease.
On a different level, some teams have longtime pros heading toward retirement, or others popular young cyclists trying to recover from injury.
Cycling Academy, meanwhile, prides itself, in part, in riding for a nation, Israel. It’s the first team from that country to compete at this level.
“Cycling is young in Israel,” team director Ran Margaliot said. “There have not been any teams even close to this level in the past. This is a start up project.”
It’s not just about Israel, either. It’s about nations, such as Israel, that lack cycling infrastructure, and the riders who struggle there.
That’s what helped Cycling Academy land its biggest supporter, Peter Sagan.
Perhaps the world’s premier cyclist, he came from Slovakia, not exactly Italy or Spain when it comes to producing pedaling talent.
Cycling Academy’s Pro Challenge team includes five Israelis, plus riders from nations such as Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.
Even in that roster and in race locations there are issues other teams have never considered. The squad raced in Poland earlier this season through cities where the Jewish population was eradicated the Holocaust.
“We had three Poles and three Israelis going together to a race as teammates, 70 years later,” spokesman Tsadok Yecheskeli said. “This symbolizes so much. We have a burden being an Israeli team, but we are proud to carry this.”
Step by step
The path to the race’s start in Steamboat wasn’t easy or obvious for any team members.
Dan Turek, 22, came out of Czech Republic and has developed into one of the team’s best. His results were key to the invite to the United States.
He’s ambitious, similar to his whole team.
“I want to win a stage,” Turek said, grinning, “or maybe even more. I want to be in some breakaways, to show the jersey.”
For rider Guy Gabay, cycling is a break from his required service in the Israeli army, and the team is an opportunity he needed.
“I couldn’t find a team to take me,” he said. “This team gave me a chance.”
In Margaliot, the team has a director intent on developing them and other riders.
He wants to give them the support he never had in his own cycling career. His goal was to become the first Israeli in the Tour de France, and he came close, signing to ride with World Tour team Saxo Bank.
That stint only lasted a year, however.
“For me it was a life mission, but other than not being good enough, I was taking some shortcuts,” Margaliot said. “I was not a good pro, but I realized I would have been much better if I was going through the right process.”
Now he wants to lead others to those goals in a better way.
That process continues today in downtown Steamboat Springs with the start of Stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge.
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It is going to be a hot week in Steamboat Springs.