“The earth was shaking, and I found myself floating.”

Tonight, Israel begins celebrating its 74th birthday. It’s a surreal moment, difficult to describe when at sunset the whole country transforms from a state of deep mourning for its fallen sons and daughters to the festivity and joy of Independence Day.

For us, Israel’s first-ever professional cycling team, this memorable date has additional value: It was exactly four years ago, on May 4th, 2018, when this team was reborn. No longer just a cycling team, but an organization ingrained in Israel’s identity, and a leader in developing the landscape of a country that knew very little of cycling.

That Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, more than a hundred thousand Israelis jammed the streets to watch the historic start of the Giro d’Italia, the first Grand Tour stage to take place outside of Europe in the more than a hundred years of the race’s existence. It was not your typical crowd; most people had never heard or watched a bike race before.

And then, shortly after 1 pm, they erupted.

A rider took off. He was THEIR rider. Guy Sagiv, a 24-year-old from a small village called Givat Nili, wearing his Israeli champion’s outfit with the blue Star of David – there he was.

Guy Sagiv still shivers when he recalls that moment.

“I remember it as if it happened a minute ago and I guess I will remember it vividly till my last day. It was electrifying. The earth just shook. I was supposed to tremble, to be shaken myself. After all, I was a young Israeli rider, in the first-ever Grand Tour, and in my home country’s capital, Jerusalem. But I was stoic. When I started to pedal, it was the weirdest of feelings: I truly felt like I was floating in space. I was going full gas, but I did not have any sensation from my muscles. No pain at all. The same with my breath. My heart was probably beating like crazy, but I felt nothing. It took about three minutes until suddenly I felt my body again. I guess that if it would have continued till the end of that TT, I would have won the stage!”

Nothing was the same after that, for both the team and for Guy. He went on to finish the Giro, going through hell to get there, but making it to Rome. The very first Israeli to do so. And, with his success, he opened the door for his Israeli teammates to follow. The glass ceiling was broken, and the whole team, now in the WorldTour, took advantage of the opportunities that followed.

Sagiv: “This moment definitely changed many things. We have made huge progress as a team and as individual riders. No longer striving to appear on the world’s biggest stages but actually focused on bringing results.

“That moment also underscored our commitment and vision as an Israeli team, dedicated to revolutionizing Israeli cycling and developing Israeli talents. I am proud to say that we are an Israeli team to the core, although we have many international riders. Our identity is Israeli.

“From the owners, Sylvan and Ron, to our DNA as a team that is not only dedicated to winning but to causes beyond cycling. From embracing the values of Gino Bartali and his heritage to the Racing for Change Project. I think it’s our X factor.”

Happy Independence Day to Israel and the team.