• Guy Carmeli

Competitive bicycle racing immigrant from Montreal helps Israel snag 2018 Giro d'Italia’s ‘Big S


JERUSALEM –

In Europe, the Giro d'Italia bicycle race ranks in status with baseball’s World Series. Since the beloved Italian sports extravaganza’s initial race in 1909, the multi-stage event’s “Big Start” has never been held outside of Europe – until now. Next May 4, the annual peloton’s green starting flag will be waved here in the Holy City, thanks in big part to Sylvan Adams – the ex-Montreal billionaire now living in Tel Aviv who himself is a competitive racer.

Adams, 58, is funding the construction of the Middle East’s first Olympic velodrome, slated to open in Tel Aviv in May in time for the Israel-based initial part of the 23-day Giro d’Italia. Israel’s only professional team, the Israel Cycling Academy, founded in 2014, is all but guaranteed to receive one of four wildcard invitations for the race.

The bike racing velodrome is part of The National Sports Center being built by the Tel Aviv Foundation and designed by Mazor – First Architects. Located on Bechor Shitrit Street in the Hadar Yosef neighborhood in the northeast corner of the Big Orange, the complex will gentrify a once impoverished neighborhood. Budgeted at U.S. $11 million, the 7,100 sq m biking facility will be jointly owned by the Olympic Committee of Israel and the Tel Aviv Municipality.

Adams, who made aliya in December 2015, is honorary president of the organizing committee of the race’s Big Start in Jerusalem.

The three-week Giro, which passes through Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, is widely considered the most dramatic of cycling’s three Grand Tours, ahead of the Tour de France and Spain's lower-key Vuelta a España. The race promises to be the most prestigious sporting event ever held in the Jewish State.

Officials including Italy’s Sports Minister Luca Lotti, Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with cycling legends Alberto Contador of Spain and Ivan Basso of Italy, met at Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Sept. 18 to sign an agreement confirming the opening three stages of next year’s Giro will take place in Israel.

“This historic ‘Big Start’ of the 101st edition of the Giro is about showcasing our country to 100’s of millions of TV and live spectators: our beautiful outdoor scenery, sharing our history, our culture, and most of all our people, in this diverse, free, pluralistic and fiercely democratic society,” Adams said at the launch ceremony. “Let me personally invite you (and 800 million of your cycling friends) to travel here and experience the Giro in Israel. If you’ve never visited before, you will be amazed by this special place. For returning visitors, come join the celebration, which may very well be Israel’s biggest ever outdoor party. “This is a project about Zionism,” he added. “About inviting 800 million TV viewers to come see our country. The beauty of cycling is that it is outdoors and it will allow us to show the country. How else could we dream about having so many people come and see our normal Israel, the Israel they don’t necessarily read about every day in the newspaper.”

According to Cycling Weekly, 176 of the world’s top cyclists will get the 2018 Giro under way May 4 with a 10.1 km stage ending against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Tower of David. This will be followed by a 167 km stage between Haifa and Tel Aviv via Acre, and a 226 km race between Beersheva and Eilat via the Ramon Crater. The Giro will end at the Vatican, concluding the theme of co-existence and peace.

Last June, Adams was the honoree at the Jewish National Fund of Canada’s annual Negev Dinner in Montreal. Proceeds from the gala went toward the new Sylvan Adams Cycling Network, a project creating bike lanes between central Tel Aviv and its satellite suburbs.

Adams, who has until recently been publicity shy, today lives in a penthouse overlooking the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv’s sea-side bicycle path. A two-time world outdoor cycling champion in his age category, his most recent title was won at the World Masters Championship, held in Manchester, Britain in 2015. Adams, who began cycling competitively more than two decades ago, is a six-time Canadian and 15-time Quebec champion. He won four gold medals at two Pan-American meets, and a total of five golds at the 2009 and 2013 Maccabiah Games.

His dream is to turn low-lying Tel Aviv into “the Amsterdam of the Middle East,” that is a city as bicycle-friendly as the flat Dutch capital.

“Amsterdam was a congested, car-centered city until the 1960s, when a deliberate plan was made by visionaries to transform it into a bike paradise,” Adams told The Canadian Jewish News in a 2016 interview.

Something similar can be done in metropolitan Tel Aviv, where traffic congestion has reached a crisis, he believes.

“Petach Tikva, for example, is eight km from the heart of Tel Aviv. That can take an hour to drive some mornings. By cycling, it is 20 to 30 minutes,” he said.

Adams first visited Israel nearly four decades ago. He and his wife of 33 years, Margaret, a native of London, England, met while volunteering on a kibbutz.

Now retired, Adams has passed control of his family business, Iberville Developments Ltd., to his son Josh. The Montreal-based commercial real estate conglomerate, founded in 1958 by his father Marcel Adams, a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor, today controls some 750,000 square meters and more than 100 properties including shopping centers, offices, industrial properties and apartment buildings.

Breaking Away to the Pink Jersey

Remember the 1979 comedy Breaking Away about a Bloomington, Indiana teenager obsessed with Italy's competitive cycling culture?

Riders in a pack save kinetic energy by slipstreaming behind other cyclists. The reduction in drag gives professional cycling its characteristic sleek image.

Like the other Grand Tours, the modern edition of the Giro d'Italia consists of 21 day-long stages held over a 23-day period that includes two rest days. Each rider’s daily finish time is compounded with his previous stage times. The racer with the lowest aggregate time is the leader and gets to don the coveted pink jersey, called la maglia rosa.

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