Helping young Israeli riders “bridge the gap”
The story behind the new ICA continental team
First Arab Muslim Rider will be part of the team
With team Israel Start-Up Nation moving up to be a WorldTour Team, there was no place for young, inexperienced Israeli riders. Since the main basis of the whole project is to develop these very riders, the decision was made to transform the Israel Cycling Academy development team into the Continental-ranked Israel Cycling Academy, thus keeping the name and the mission alive.
First established in 2015 by Ron Baron and Ran Margaliot as a Continental team with the dual purpose of establishing cycling as a sport in Israel and of developing riders, ICA moved up to Pro Conti status in 2017 before making the jump to WorldTour this year.
The younger riders were not forgotten as the team worked its way up. The Israel Cycling Academy Development Team (Devo Team) was established in 2017 in order to help move from the Israeli professional cycling level to the international level of the cycling world, and to qualify Israeli professional staff and riders to work and race in the international arena.
Teaching young riders the professional way of doing things
Aviad Izrael joined the Devo Team as team manager when it was formed, and now continues that role with the Pro Conti team. The long-term plan, he says, is to have the Academy “running for years, helping young Israeli riders bridge the gap from the national to the international level. We will have mostly Israeli riders combined with talented riders from different countries helping each other to achieve both personal and team goals.”
The team’s main goal “is to teach young Israeli riders to be professional. To make this happen, we have to help the riders with some key elements.” According to General Manager Chen Tal, these key elements include such basics as “learning how a pro lives, eats, sleeps, trains, recovers and, of course, races.”
One of the keys is to select the right riders. “We are going for the long-term process with the riders,” Izrael said. “I truly believe that the full process without shortcuts will help us to create a better structure and riders. That is why I prefer to take new riders by the age of 19, so I know that we can work with them for the next three years without skipping important development stages.”
He points to two riders who have moved up from the Devo team to the WorldTour team this year. Guy Niv “is a great example of the process”, coming from the national MTB team to two years with the Devo team, and already having been at the Giro d’Italia twice.
The second rider is young sprinter Itamar Einhorn. The 22-year-old Israeli was on the Devo team in 2017 and 2018, serving as a stagiaire for the Pro Conti team both years. In 2019, he officially moved up to the Pro Conti team in June. He will make his debut on the WorldTour team at the Vuelta a San Juan.
“We understand we can’t make sure that all our riders will be pros, but they can be better people, riders, and teammates, and receive great tools for their current and future lives.”
Welcoming cultural diversity
While the team’s main emphasis is on developing Israeli talent, “we want as diverse a team as possible with young people from all cultures and beliefs to race together purely in the name of sport,” said new Sport Director Zak Dempster. “So, when young guys come along from anywhere with the right attitude and set of skills, and of course if they really wants to do it. I hope we can provide them with the platform for them to get the best of themselves, no matter where they’re from.”
Two riders on the team exemplify that diversity. New to the team this year is El Madhi Chokri, of Morocco, who is the first Arab Muslim on the team. The 23-year old is not modest in stating his goals: “I have joined the Israel Cycling Academy to be a professional cyclist. My professional goal is to ride the Tour de France.”
He first started sport when he was five, turning to cycling when he was 12. Only three years later he won the Arabic ITT championship, repeating the title the next year. In 2014 he went to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre for three years, racing as a junior and gaining valuable international experience.
In 2017, he signed with Dimension Date for Qhubeka Continental team, and “I had great experience with them. I did a lot of races and it was my goal to be part of their WorldTour team in 2020.” Despite his good power and good results, he didn’t get that offer. “I was going to stop cycling this year and do something else. Then my former coach recommended me for ICA. I was thinking the WorldTour team, but Zak said it’s the Conti team. But the way things are setup in 2020, the Conti team can race with the WorldTour teams. I signed and here I am now!”
The second African rider on the team is Awet Gebremedhin, 28, who grew up in abject poverty in Eritrea. He first raced at the age of 15, and eventually became part of the national junior und U-23 team. He eventually had success at that level and rode the U23 World championships in Florence in 2013.
There he made the fateful decision that he must leave his homeland to pursue his dream of becoming a pro cyclist. He sought asylum in Sweden, but because of failing paperwork he was unable to compete for two years, which he calls “the worst years of my life.” He finally was able to join the Ner Group-Marco Polo team, before moving up to the Kuwait-Cartucho.es Continental team. In 2018 he signed with the Israel Cycling Academy, where he rode the Giro d’Italia in 2019, finishing 128th as the first Eritrean to ride that race.
New DS Dempster to guide the team of mixed ages
Those young riders are turned over to new Sport Director Zak Dempster. The Australian put an end to his 14-year active career, with the last three years at ICA. The proposal to change from the bike to the team car was suggested the middle of last season.
“At that point I was riding quite well and enjoying the whole process of being a cyclist, but honestly, I couldn’t say no to the chance to make the next step in my professional career.” He has already completed the courses for Level 3 coach and Sports Director at the UCI Centre in Switzerland, “and now here I am, deep into the planning and execution of a really exciting project.”
He noted that the process of putting together a team “is always interesting, and even more so with young people from all different countries and cultures. I also believe that we have a really great opportunity to break down the process of being a great cyclist and concentrate on each area needed for each rider. Creating a good rider is not a simple equation, we need to assess each individual carefully and work out their development path with them.”
Part of that is to “break down the process and try to help them make everything as effective as possible. From diet to travel to race IQ to managing living in a foreign country,” things which may be new to the young Israeli riders.
Of the 16 riders, half are Israelis, and the other half is international. But Dempster divides the team in a different manner, based on age and experience.
The first group is the “Young Development” riders: Yuval Ben Moshe, Robin Plamondon, Saned Abu-Fares, Omer Lahav, Carson Miles, Edo Goldstein, Eitan Levi, and Lahav Davidzon. All are 19 or 20 years old. “These guys are here for their first shot at European racing. The key thing for them is gaining experience and trying to reach the finals of races in the UCI Europe Tour.”
Then come the “Mature Age Development” riders: Freddy Ovett, Ido Bear, El Mehdi Chokri, and Schlomi Haimy. “These guys are out of U-23, and until now haven’t been able to make the step up for whatever reason. The important thing here is to break down the process, work from the ground up, and see what they can really do with the chance.”
The last group is the “Mature Riders”, all of whom were on the ICA Pro Conti team last year: Edwin Avila, Ben Perry, Daniel Turek and Awet Gebremedhin. “These guys are her on every level. They’re here to help the younger riders gain a better understanding of the process, to put in place those processes in order to lead by example, and most importantly, to be effective racers fighting for the win to show the younger guys what’s possible.”
Young, enthusiastic and hungry for success
One of those youngsters is 19-year-old Edo Goldstein, making the move up from the Junior and Elite levels. He is enthusiastic about having his chance. “For me it’s really amazing, like a dream come true. For many years we didn’t have any place to develop ourselves, and it was really hard to find a way to become a pro cyclist, so this is really the best.”
He acknowledges that “I need to get more experience in high-level racing, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to give to the team. With typical youthful modesty (or lack thereof), he says he still has to find out what his specialty is, “but right now I can say I’m good in everything.” Indeed, he has shown all-around promise, finishing third in the National time trial and fourth in the road race last year.
Edo is the youngest of three brothers. Eldest brother Roy retired in December, having been with the ICA team since the beginning in 2015. Middle brother Omer joined the team in 2016 and made the move up to the WorldTour team. He will be at the start of the Tour Down Under later this month.
“I grew up with them, both on and off the bike, so we are not only brothers but also good friends. One of my goals and dreams is to ride together with my brother on the WorldTour team.”
Having an Israeli team means a lot to him. “It means that people see in me and in us as Israelis a lot of potential and are ready to fight for us and with us. And for those young Israelis who are thinking of taking up cycling, keep fighting and dreaming and remember that you now have a good place to grow in the sport.”
ISRAEL CYCLING ACADEMY CONTINENTAL TEAM FOR 2020:
Saned Abu-Fares (ISR)
Edwin Avila (COL)
Ido Bear (ISR)
Yuval Ben Moshe (ISR)
El Mehdi Chokri (MAR)
Lahav Davidzon (ISR)
Awet Gebremedhin (ERI – SWE)
Edo Goldstein (ISR)
Shlomo Haimy (ISR)
Omer Lahav (ISR)
Eitan Levi (ISR)
Carson Miles (CAN)
Freddy Ovett (AUS)
Benjamin Perry (CAN)
Robin Plamondon (CAN)
Daniel Turek (CZE)