What happens when you give 20 students and 20 riders

a selection of axes, spades, rakes and shovels, and turn them loose in a field of mud?

The answer is obvious – they build a cyclocross course! And in just one hour!

Working towards a common goal – in the mud

Turn a bunch of pro cyclists and cycling students loose on a field of mud and you will end up with a cyclocross course. The riders from the Israel Start-Up Nation team and the students of the Gino Bartali Youth Leadership School did just that last week, working together to create not only a parcourse for the kids, but also to create a bond with the kids and show them the values of teamwork.

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

The team visited the Gino Bartali Youth Leadership School during its training camp in Israel, last week. After having lunch with the kids, cyclists who are full-time students as well, and getting the chance to chat with them in a casual environment, everyone headed out to a cleared field, which recent rains had turned into mud.

They were divided into three teams, one each to build fences, fix the climb, and loosen the sand pits. Everyone donned rubber boots, grabbed their axes or spades, and went to work – the kids side-by-side with their cycling heroes.

Within an hour the parcourse was ready! After a few practice laps, the “race” started. Pros alternated on bikes with the kids – regardless of size – and took off. At least one of the pros managed to go face first into the mud, too much laughter from his teammates. Several riders went around the course several times or stood on the course to help the kids through the difficulties.

The day’s results? A new parcourse was built, yes, but more importantly, the students got to meet real pro cyclists, and see that they were not afraid to work hard and to get dirty doing so.

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

German Andre Greipel was a prime example, spending much of his time picking up garbage from the field and filling up bag after bag. “We are building a cyclocross parcourse for the kids so they can get to know cycling in a really nice way, because cyclocross is one of the best ways you can practice your skills on the bike.”

Admitting it was a team-building exercise like he has “never done before” in his career, he also said it was a fun day, and the smiles on everyone’s faces afterwards proved his point.

Greipel also praised the educational facilities. “As a parent I know how important education is for kids and if my kids would go to a school like that and get these chances and possibilities, I think I would like to see that.”

His comments acknowledged that there was much more to the afternoon than having fun and riding bikes in the mud. It was also about tolerance, hard work and co-operation.

The School is named for Gino Bartali, the Italian star who won multiple Grand Tours in the 1930s and 1940s, and risked his life in helping to save Jews in Italy during World War II, risking his life for those he did not know.

The philosophy is three-pronged: doing good solely for the sake of doing good; working together to help one another; and working hard to achieve goals.

Those are not only the goals of the team and its riders, but also of the School. Now in its first year, its students are all cyclists ranging in age from 13 to 16, from a variety of religions and backgrounds. They board at the school and of course receive a regular full education, as well as instruction in road and track cycling as well as cyclocross and mountain biking.

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

Israel has no real culture of sport, and the school is part of an effort to introduce cycling to the country. Whether the young athletes continue in the sport professionally or simply learn the pleasures of exercise and movement, they will certainly benefit from the life skills and values they learn by living and working together with the sport.

The School is located in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, a boarding school founded in 1927 and with 420 students, ranging in age from 6 to 18. The youngest students are orphans or come from difficult family situations, whilst those who start attending at an older age may be seeking specific educational goals. Students come from various religions and nationalities, including refugees from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Its most famous graduate is Shimon Peres, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Prime Minister of Israel.

By the end of the day, the riders and students could look back on what they had achieved, together. And perhaps next July the kids will be watching the Tour de France on TV see the Israel Start-Up Nation riders and be able to boast, “I know them!”

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross

bartali school and israel start up nation building a cyclecross