Five promising young Israeli cyclists, representing the new generation of riders from the country, are part of the highest quality roster ever of the Israel – Premier Tech Academy development team, which will soon open its most challenging season in history after concluding its final training camp in Spain earlier this week.

Unlike previous years, this year’s Academy squad – which includes three international riders with European championship titles – will compete in high-level professional races that until now have been the exclusive domain of riders from the senior team.

“This year we have qualities that, at least on paper, are even better than in previous years,” said the team’s new manager Tim Elverson. “Anyone who wants to succeed here and get a chance to step up to the senior team will need to prove themselves in the toughest races. There will be no free lunches.”

Thrown into these deep waters are five Israeli riders, aged 18 to 22, three of whom are making their first steps in the professional arena. The other two – Guy Tahar (19) and Matar Peretz (18) – have yet to experience even a single professional race. “I felt like I was in boot camp,” admitted Peretz from Binyamina, after a two-week intensive training camp covering thousands of kilometers at a level he had never experienced. “I survived it and I felt better every day, but I know it’s going to be much more painful, and many tough moments are expected.”

Tahar, on the other hand, said he was initially in a sort of shock, not just from the qualities of the foreign riders around him but also from the fact that “mechanics and a whole team are preparing my bike and taking care of everything I need, things I used to do myself.” He added: “On the one hand, it’s an amazing experience, but on the other, there’s a lot of pressure to prove that I’m worthy of this opportunity to be a professional. Yet, it doesn’t scare me. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity.”

The immediate and most important challenge in the Israeli roster of the Academy falls on Rotem Tene, 22. The rider with the most seniority and experience among the young Israelis, he has achieved fantastic results so far in track racing (velodrome), including a sixth-place finish in the World Championships. But now, Tene is tasked with proving he deserves a professional contract with the senior team in road racing by the end of this season. The only way to do this, clarified the new British boss of the team, is to seize the opportunities he will get in high-level races, including in Belgium. “I expect him to fight for victories,” said Elverson.

Tene himself does not downplay expectations: “I’m counting on a win,” he admitted. “I finished in the top 10 six times last season, and now I need to prove that I’m capable of moving up a level to receive a full professional contract from Israel – Premier Tech.”

Rotem Tene

Photo: Rotem Tene is the oldest of the five Israeli riders on the Academy squad

And it’s not out of reach: Last season, the Academy succeeded in advancing two Israeli riders to the senior team: Nadav Raisberg and Oded Kogut. “Their success in breaking through is my model and that of all Israelis,” says Aviv Bental, the 21-year-old climber in his second year with the Academy. “They proved to all of us that it’s possible.”

There’s no story more dramatic and painful that demonstrates the determination of Israelis to realize their dream than that of Imry Faingezicht. The fifth Israeli on the Academy roster, and, according to professional team estimates, also the most promising talent. The 21-year-old from Bat Shlomo, who is the Israeli under-23 time trial champion, was severely injured at the beginning of November when a car hit him from behind while he was training on his bike not far from his home. He was thrown onto the asphalt, breaking his skull and cracking vertebrae near his neck. The doctors at the hospital later told him he was just a step away from paralysis. “The impact was millimeters from leaving me severely disabled for life,” he recounts. “It took me a long time to digest that I had tremendous luck.”

Even after physically recovering weeks later – surgery to repair the radius bone was the least of his troubles – he needed psychological counseling to break through the fear barrier of returning to cycling. “It took a long time to overcome the fear,” he admits candidly. “And even when I returned to riding, it was only with other riders around me. Never alone.” At the team’s training camp in Alicante, which he completed successfully, he finally felt safe. “Abroad, it’s much easier for me. In Israel, I feel unprotected by the problematic driving culture. It feels like a life-threatening danger.”

The absurdity is that he feels much safer even in races where crashes are almost routine. “With that, I can cope,” he says. “But with drivers who don’t respect you, you feel helpless.” He never even thought of giving up on his dream. “Even my mom pushed me to continue, but the truth is, I never thought for a moment of giving up on this dream.”

Photo: Imry Faingezicht’s hopes and dreams were nearly dashed at the end of 2023

The team consensus is that Imry is the real deal. Although it’s only his first year with the Academy he already impressed in his debut race at the Tour de l’Avenir, the toughest stage race in the world for young National teams, where he felt completely in his element. Elverson, with a successful 14-year career in developing young talents into professionals behind him, believes Faingezicht has everything it takes to realize his potential and become a professional rider, even in the Classics. “We believe in him but of course, he will need time to develop, and he will need to prove it,” he said.

But the Israeli professional manager of the team, Aviad Izrael, warns that given the high level of international talents in the young Academy, the Israelis will have to fight and justify receiving opportunities in races: “The pressure in the professional cycling field is intensifying because the youngsters are setting the tone today,” Izrael said. “The burden of proof will be on them and they will have to fight and earn their opportunities. It’s a double sword of sorts.”

Photo: The camaraderie is strong among the five Israeli riders

But the youngsters willnot be rushed, promised the Spanish team sports director Ruben Plaza. “We are restarting the process with the Israelis. It will take some time,” said Plaza. This year, the Academy also receives a young Israeli reinforcement to its professional staff: Lahav Davidzon, who competed in its ranks in recent years, made a professional twist, and joined as a sports director and developer of Israeli talents. Congratulations to him.