Tel Aviv. May 4, 2018.

Guy Niv and Guy Sagiv officially become the first Israelis to ride in a Grand Tour.

Massive crowds line the streets to watch the Giro’s opening time trial.

“5!” the crowd chanted.

“4!” they screamed.

“3!” they stomped their feet.

“2!” they hollered.

“1!” they exploded as Guy Sagiv rolled down the start ramp. The crowd in Jerusalem, electric with passion, went wild at the sight of the first Israeli to ever race a Grand Tour, the Israeli time trial champion no less.

“I felt the ground tremble when I started,” said Guy Sagiv, as a huge grin covered his face. “It was an experience I’ve never had before. I started and all the crowd was cheering for me along the whole course. I was shocked. We are not used to that. I am not used to it.”

Sagiv’s teammate and fellow Israeli, Guy Niv, had a similar experience. “I had so much fun which is quite unusual for a time trial because you suffer like hell but the atmosphere was amazing.” While a time trial is always demanding, for a climber like Niv, it is extra challenging, but the thousands of fans who lined the 9.7-kilometer route made it easier. “Any time I had pain or fatigue in my legs, I just looked to the sides and felt the crowd pushing for me and cheering for me and suddenly I could push harder. It was an amazing experience.”

It wasn’t just the riders who were impressed. The fans came from all over the world: Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, USA, and all corners of Israel. A twenty-something man from Jerusalem admitted he wasn’t initially sure what to think about the Giro d’Italia coming to Israel, but after seeing just a few riders cornering at full speed, he was convinced.

Even Kjell Carlström, the team’s manager with years of experience as a professional cyclist and as a sports director, hadn’t predicted such a lively audience. “I must admit that the atmosphere surprised me. I never expected this kind of reception by the crowds, never expected so many people turning out.” With such fanfare, he worried his riders would feel pressured. “I was a bit concerned about how the whole scene around the Israeli riders, especially around Sagiv, would affect them. But I also felt that they should enjoy it. It’s really a once in a lifetime experience but obviously, they were affected. I could see that Sagiv was a bit ‘blocked’ and did not have maximum energy. That was natural. He got to the start without the calm and isolation he needed. But it’s ok. He will have it back.”

In the morning, the team had the privilege of meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who wished them well in the race. “The whole country will be behind you. We hope we can push you. It’s a great moment for Israel and Israeli sports.”

Guy Sagiv told the Prime Minister, “We feel honored you came to meet us. We will do our best to represent our country in the best way possible.”

Now that the race is underway, Niv certainly feels relieved to have the opening stage behind him. “Now we can do what we really like and what we really know how to do and that race bikes. We’ve had a lot of extra stuff in the last few days, so I’m happy the race has finally started.”