Pierre Riou does not take offense. This 73-year-old cyclist from Nantes has straddled his bike twice since the start of the competition, in Nice, to protest against the presence on the Tour de France of the Israel Start-Up Nation team.
“The Palestinian people resist by working their land, I participate in my own way in their struggle by pedaling”, confides this retiree who has completed two stages, spearhead of the France-Palestine Solidarity association. Which mobilized this summer on its site to denounce this “Israeli operation for the political recovery of sport”.
“When we talk to them, people on the side of the road listen to us and understand what we are doing, but many are not really aware of what is going on”, continues the Nantes. It is, however, very clear in the mind of Sylvan Adams, founder and boss of the Israel Start-Up Nation team. After making his alya, this billionaire of Quebec origin decided to use his passion for cycling, which he practiced as an amateur, as a tool for promoting Israel.
“Promote the image of our country”
“On the one hand we have to encourage cycling in Israel and on the other we wear our national colors blue and white with the name Israel proudly inscribed in large letters on our jersey, we have to promote our country to show the true face. Israel which is so misunderstood because of one-sided media coverage ”, he said at the beginning of the year.
He then spoke shortly after the accession, for a large check, of Israel Start-Up Nation within the 19 Pro Teams teams, in other words the highest international level which induces an automatic presence in the biggest races in the world. .
The building of his team was carried out with great speed by this man who made his fortune in real estate. Since the creation of what was then called Israel Cycling Academy in 2014, he has crossed the steps of cycling four to four, thanks to enormous financial means.
Hiring big names in cycling
According to estimates published at the time, he offered 3 million euros to RCS, the organizing company of the Giro d’Italia for a start and three stages in Israel during the 2018 edition of the Giro. He had even obtained a finish of the last stage in Italy Via della Conciliazione, in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Before Vatican diplomats opposed it, forcing the organizers to fall back on an arrival in front of the Colosseum.
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On the sporting front, he first bet on little-known European cyclists supposed to train the few competitive Israeli cyclists, including Guy Niv racing on the 2020 Tour. But this strategy has shown its limits and he took out his checkbook for hire some old glories of the peloton, the Irishman Dan Martin or the German André Greipel, who are part of the Grande Boucle.
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His last coup was in July, when Christopher Froome, quadruple winner of the Tour de France, in delicacy with his British employer Ineos, announced that he would run in the blue and white jersey in 2021.
An Alsatian in Israeli colors
Three names of not very well known French riders appear in the team: Picard Rudy Barbier, Breton Alexis Renard and Alsatian Hugo Hofstetter, the only one on this Tour and invisible since the start from Nice. This choice, supposed to guarantee the support of the French public and of France Télévisions cameras in the event of a long-term escape, is reinforced by the presence of a sports director. Norman, Lionel Marie. Which does not wish to speak on something other than the strictly sporting ground, the press service not having answered the requests for interviews of The cross.
The letters sent by the France-Palestine Solidarity association to the three French runners of Israel Start-Up Nation have also remained unanswered. In its communication, the team prefers to stick to a polished speech. It thus refers to the diversity of origins and religions of its workforce, highlighting the hiring, in 2020, in its reserve team, of a Moroccan and Muslim runner.
The Emirates and Kazakhstan in the race
Israel is not the only state present on the jerseys of racing teams since the start of the Tour. The Astana group, named after the capital of Kazakhstan, opened this diplomatic ball in 2007. Bahrain-McLaren was created in 2016, in particular to promote the Kingdom of Bahrain. In 2017, UAE Team Emirates bought the license of the former Italian team Lampre to wave the banner of the United Arab Emirates on cycling sport.