Israel SUN co-founder and co-owner Ron Baron tells how and why the team came to be
In 2014, Israeli businessman and hobby cyclist Ron Baron met up with former pro cyclist Ran Margaliot. Lamenting that Israel had no real culture of cycling and therefore offered no opportunities for cycling and cyclists to develop, they decide to do something about it. Within six months they had established the Israel Cycling Academy, the first pro cycling team in Israel.
And now, only a few years later, under the new name of Israel Start-Up Nation, the team has joined the highest ranks of professional cycling and will take part in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
“Five years ago, at exactly this time of year we announced that we will start a professional team, Ran Margaliot, a very young, 25, ex-professional and myself. Everyone thought this was a nice idea from two nice guys but maybe they had too much wine or maybe one year we make too much money,” Baron said at the team training camp in December, in Israel. “And now we are here.”
The team moved in to the WorldTour by taking over the UCI license from Team Katusha, which stopped the end of 2019, and also taking over seven Katusha riders. In 2019, the Pro Conti team had six Israeli riders and will have four in 2020. Does this in any way compromise the team’s Israeli identity?
“That is a question that we raised ourselves. We were stuck as Pro Continental and we realized we were stuck between the PC and the WorldTour. We put a lot of money to work, (co-owner) Sylvan (Adams) and me, but we couldn’t get the right sponsors and the right riders. We knew that our destiny was to be WorldTour.”
Other WorldTour teams wanted to merge with ICA
Katusha was not the only team to show interest. Once it was known that the team was looking to step up, “We met everyone. During the summer, Sylvan and me, everyone came to us.”A number of WorldTour teams were actively looking to merge with ICA, “but we always insisted we are Israel, that the Israel vision is the most important, and that we will be in control of the team.”
Destiny arrived earlier than expected, “I think it is a very good investment.” A merger of teams is always a concern, but Baron is pleased with his new riders. “They actually feel at home and they are surprised at the good spirit at the team. The riders love the team and it’s a good spirit.”
“I think it’s a good melting pot of different nationalities, to build up something special away from politics, away from nationalities, away from government, and it’s really a nice message to the world, that we can do this and do it in a peaceful way,” he said, neatly summing up the team’s philosophy.
Continental team “to build Israeli talent and Israeli managers”
With more international riders on the team, and fewer chances for the young Israeli riders, a Continental level team has been established, still carrying on the name of Israel Cycling Academy. “Our Continental team will have more Israeli riders. We will also have other riders but mainly Israelis, and we want to build Israeli talent and Israeli managers. They will have the inspiration of the WT team but the more suitable place for the young Israeli riders will obviously be the Continental level.”
According to Baron, the team is trying to achieve the balance of being both a global and an Israeli team. “We want to be a global team but it’s more important for us to be the team of the Jewish people.”