Frédéric Thoos from the French Magazine Planète Cyclisme, had published 6 pages article about Israel Cycling Academy (followed by the great picture of our photographer Noa Arnon). We thank him for letting us posting the text and pictures as they are on the article.
Below is the English translation the to French article. Enjoy.
Par Frédéric Thoos (Planète Cyclisme)
Photos Noa Arnon (Israël Cycling Academy)
After the purchase of Katusha-Alpecin’s license, Israel Cycling Academy arrives on the WorldTour. With 30 riders of 19 nationalities, the team has reached a new milestone in its atypical history, initiated by the will of the first professional Israeli and two philanthropists.
Lionel Marie, one of the team’s DS, Mickaël Leveau, whom from his training structure, his sprinter Rudy Barbier and the neo-pro Alexis Renard tell us about this team that runs all over the world, very well structured and who will discover the most beautiful races, including the Tour de France. In all humility, but not lacking ambition.
Having become global in the 21st century, cycling is now justified in running all over the world on five continents, as it sees riders from all backgrounds coming in teams that are no longer limited to the borders of old Europe. The umpteenth proof of this opening, in 2015, Israel, the emblematic country of the Middle East, embarked on a major cycling history on a continental level. Lionel Marie, French sports director and frequent traveller to France, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Turkey and Switzerland before returning to the United States, arrived at Israel Cycling Academy at the end of 2017. He symbolizes this openness of mind and facts: “I was contacted by Kjell Carlstrom, the team manager, whom I met at IAM Cycling. Kjell needed to strengthen his staff. The team had switched to ContinentalPro and the project was gaining in strength. The team started in Continental in 2015, created by Ran Margaliot. I said yes right away.”
Ephemeral pro cyclist at the beginning of 2010 at Saxo Bank, the young Israeli had the idea of setting up a team to promote his country by a different image than that conveyed by the media and bring his young people to this sport that almost doesn’t exist compare to basketball and football (there are few races in the country, and the races are expensive to organize in Israel, that they are held outside the cities, like the national championship). Margaliot also wanted the team to be made up of runners from all over the world! He talked about this idea with a wealthy businessman that likes cycling himself, who then became the owner of the team, the Israeli Ron Baron. “Ran created the team with Ron. Then Sylvan Adams arrived, like Ron he is a true passionate and a great practitioner. Sylvan is the world champion of track racing veterans! He has also built a velodrome in Tel Aviv and is a major supporter of cycling, particularly in Canada. Sylvan wanted to communicate through an event. Football and Formula 1 were considered too expensive, so he turned to cycling.” Margaliot has since left the team to take over Bartali Youth Leadership School, a school for the reintegration of young people through cycling, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and has left the team leadership to the two bosses since 2017.
Two philanthropic bosses and the Giro 2018
This is the beginning of the love story between the team and the country. A double entity that wants to make its place in the world of cycling. Sylvan Adams came up with ideas, as Lionel Marie explains: “He wanted an event to showcase Israel and he turned to the organizers of the Tour of Italy. He invited them and when RCS Sport saw the excitement around this project, he said banco for a Grande Partenza from Jerusalem (and three days in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Beer-Sheva, Eilat). I had the chance to participate in the celebration. It was phenomenal. If some of them were afraid, everything went wonderfully well. The emotion was palpable around this communion!” Sylvan was involved in the organisation and management of the event (with 80 M€ invested from his pocket). For the first time that a Grand Tour started outside Europe, it was a great success. “We saw a supporter running near our leader Ruben Plaza with a Palestinian flag,” says Marie. “But Ruben was right about him and his incomprehensible act.” Ron Baron and Sylvan Adams are two philanthropists, with their hands on their hearts and ready to do anything for their common passion. Ready to put each half of the team’s budget estimated this year at €7 million and to take their team to the highest level. “I believe in the viability of this project,” says Lionel Marie. “Their will is to have an economic support. They want to encourage private partners to join the team. The dynamic will continue with the arrival of Israeli companies. The team’s DNA is its own country. There is a desire to integrate a company so that it lasts over time. But beware, we are not in the case of millionaires who change their hobby according to their mood. When they meet the team, they come on their bikes. Once, Sylvan joined us for an internship in Civiglio and he rode the Stelvio with us, at over 60 years old! He even has an altitude box at home. When they are with the cyclists, they have a smile on their faces.
ICA has all the makings of a major player
The team has everything to perform and last. It motivates Lionel Marie to stay in the long term. Since 2015, it has been growing in stages. The first two years at a continental level then three years in ContinentalPro and the team will be arriving in 2020 on the WorldTour. Rudy Barbier, a sprinter who came to ag2r La Mondiale last January, explains his choice to join the team: “I told my agent I want to try abroad to open up”. Going down from ag2r for Israel could be like an adventure! But I’m a modern cyclist and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Kjell Carlstrom discussed it with him. I wanted to do sprints again, to have the weight of the team and Israel wanted to score points to be well ranked and claim an invitation to the Tour or to enter the WorldTour. From the outside, the team doesn’t look like much. But the guy who watches his TV and follows the races realizes that it’s a very serious team. It competed in 100 races in 2019 and ran for more than 300 days. I didn’t take any risks by signing here. A young, solid team. All the lights are green. I look forward to returning to the WorldTour I discovered with ag2r three years ago. “Yes, Israel Cycling Academy has nothing to envy from any other team. Lionel Marie confirms this, as he has known many teams (Cofidis, Slipstream, Orica, Giant, IAM…): “With Kjell, we were inspired by our former teams. We had a chef, osteopaths. There is a structure, a follow-up, a discipline, coaches with a Canadian manager. We are also part of the MPCC. With our limited resources, we do things seriously, 4-5 DS, 8 mechanics, 8 assistants…”
A well-made pyramidal structure
Israel Cycling Academy is a ContinentalPro team that becomes WorldTour, but it also has a development team and since January 2019, it has been associated with the structure French DN1 Côtes d’Armor-Marie Morin-Veranda Rideau. Israel was looking for a team to send its young Israeli cyclists to train in France before coming back to perform. “I insisted on it being Côtes d’Armor. I knew his sports director Mickael Leveau well. The skills are there. The team has a house on site in Quessoy that can accommodate the racers. Many live there. “It serves as a future-oriented laboratory, as well as a life-size test. “It’s a springboard, a real training centre”, says Marie, who will welcome the new promising young talent Alexis Renard, 20 years old, trained in Brittany and an intern at ICA since last August. If the base is solid in terms of training, the top of the pyramid, the pro team, is just as solid with its specificities: “Israel Cycling Academy, is made up of 30 riders from 19 different nationalities. This team is a state of mind and an openness. The official language is English.” As for the results, the team is also coming out of its best season: 314 days of racing, up to four fronts at the same time, the team has made the world speak with 29 wins, earning the respect of the opponents for the past two years. “Boys outperform for each other. Our leaders, like Ben Hermans or Tom van Asbroeck, are winning and are consistent. And when they are not performing well, they work for others. These results are not insignificant.
A dual objective of identity and sportsmanship
The team arrived in the peloton with an image and it keeps moving forward. Rudy Barbier liked it: “This team is Israel with about twenty nationalities. Inside, everyone communicates in English, even badly, and helps each other. English is not my strong point. Everyone told me “but go ahead, get started”. Even when I realized that I was talking nonsense, even in briefings and debriefings. Outside, there were big prejudices. But I don’t listen much to what I’m told. I make my own analysis. I have seen fewer soldiers in one trip to Tel Aviv than in two days in Paris. “Lionel Marie is committed to this image and identity that attracts. He mentioned the growing interest in the country. “Before the Giro 2018, a famous Israeli journalist from the 1pm news show came to follow us to the Tour of Catalonia. A first for the team. The sign that the project is of interest. There is a real passion for cycling here now. “In addition to its results and its identity aspect, there is also the training aspect, like the Dimension Data who train African runners and dream of taking them to the highest level: “We have Israeli runners. Two finished the Giro, Guy Sagiv (in 2018) and Guy Niv (in 2019) and we have a young man who is developing well, Omer Goldstein. Moving young people from the regional level to the pro level is part of our objectives, even if it is difficult. “Lionel Marie, who has worked in Australia, the United States, Europe or Turkey, likes it here: “I spent a year in Turkey with a Muslim-sounding team and I am on a Jewish-sounding team. I am delighted with these different points of view. It is good to convey these approaches. In Turkey, I was fasting during the Ramadan. That’s also what cycling is all about. Owners Ron and Sylvan want the new runners to immerse themselves in the Israeli culture. Our December internship will be in Jerusalem, for example. It is a desire to introduce newcomers to the city, the country and its culture. We visit the Holocaust Yad Vashem Museum. Outside the country, it’s the same. The idea of culture and discovery is very present. During the Tour of Rwanda, we visited the genocide memorial in Kigali Gisozi. “Lionel Marie likes this vision of the job he has at Israel Cycling Academy: “When you go to visit Yad Vachem, it stirs your guts. It’s not about riding a bike. This year, we’re going to go to a kibbutz. “Rudy Barbier is in line with his DS: “I was an intern at Bridgestone in 2012 in Japan, then I ran for the Army in 2013. I want to get out of the track ready made in cycling. I want to be happy in my career, to love what I do. “This is exactly what is happening in this team that is now turning to the WorldTour and growing even more, as we have learned that Ron Baron and Sylvan Adams will create a Continental team between the WorldTour and the development team. “A scoop” laughs Lionel Marie (It will be based in Gerona, where about fifteen members of the group live, with the race department and the WorldTour team, while the Devo Team is based in Israel), who will focus on the 2020 objectives! “We will spend a few days in Croatia and Israel in December, then it will be the internship in Calpe in January. “Before the WorldTour debut!
Dan Martin, André Greipel and a major focus called Tour
“This license for at least three years is a big challenge,” says Rudy Barbier. “I talked about it with Lionel and Matthias Brandle (one of the team leaders). We’re all putting pressure on each other. We want to continue to influence the races as we did in ContiPro. It’s going to be hard. But wherever we can do it, we’ll do it! “A real challenge,” says the one who will discover a Grand Tour as well. “Cycling is a challenge every winter. “The budget will increase and the purchase of Katusha-Alpecin’s license will bring in riders from the former team (Nils Politt in particular) and members of the staff. Behind the scenes, Lionel Marie hopes that Israeli companies will arrive, with the Tour de France on the horizon. The team will still be called Israel in 2020, but more certainly Cycling Academy. The rest is still a mystery, even if we already know that the colours of the jersey will remain those of the Israeli flag, blue and white, the colours of all the teams, including Côtes d’Armor. His roster will also grow. Politt arrives, the young Frenchman, from the Cofidis, Hugo Hofstetter also to strengthen the classic riders, while a top level leader will be on the big tours and stage races. Lionel Marie sees Ben Hermans, Tom van Absroeck and Krists Neilands as versatile leaders and is delighted with Dan Martin’s visit: “Dan had signed before the WorldTour arrival. He is recognized, he has experience. For him, it’s a challenge at 33 years old and for us, a guarantee to perform at one moment on all stage races. Maybe it’s also refreshing for him, a pro team still ok, but not in the approach of a team that has 10 years behind it and the routine. “Another important recruitment that we recently learned, is André Greipel, who is motivated like a young man and who will only have stayed at Arkea-Samsic for one year!
This first Tour de France will be a major sporting event. But Lionel Marie warns: “It’s not just the Tour. We will have to find our way in the same way as Slipstream/Garmin in which I was, a team for a time-trial team at the beginning. At GreenEDGE, there was the image of a classic sprinter with Simon Gerrans. We must find an identity that fits us and then develop, like Orica who turns to the general rankings. The WorldTour license is granted for three years. This is a first step. In cycling, you must find your place, be recognized for who you are and make others want to come. “Israel Cycling Acedemy doesn’t want to think of itself as a team that it wouldn’t be: “We’re going to go through ups and downs. Like in football, we change divisions. The experience will be acquired over time. In 2020, we will make observations of deficiencies and we will have moments of euphoria. We will have to assess the situation and readjust things. The maturity of a team at this level is usually acquired after four years! Just like what we experienced with IAM. Sky looked for its marks at first. We will be competing with teams with phenomenal budgets and proven experience and stability. We arrive like the Little Thumb. But there’s no reason we can’t find our way, our philosophy. “The team’s DNA will not change. Even if the future ContiPro will perhaps no longer meet the identity idea, the WorldTour group will still have about fifteen nationalities and for the staff and its bosses, there is no question of lowering the objectives. Sylvan Adams is offensive: “Several new riders, including some from Katusha, are joining us. We’re going to make a lot of noise in a lot of big races. “The team’s communication manager, Tsadok Yecheskeli, a former war journalist well known in Israel, is very available and open. He has noticed this openness towards the team for years, which is only growing. Israel finds its place, in the media and the peloton. “These guys came up on tiptoe. I hope they’re proud! Today, we impose respect” concludes Rudy Barbier. It is not Lionel Marie from Menton, who, with his riders, is eager to see the 2020 Tour spend three days not far from his home in Nice, who will say the opposite.
“At first, we were being laughed at.”
“He will be our life-size tester” says of him Mickaël Leveau. After two years at Côtes d’Armor-Marie Morin-Veranda Rideau, the 2019 Amateurs French champion explains his choice to sign pro with Israel at 20 years old!
- P.C.: How did your arrival as an intern at Israel go?
A.R.: “I knew since last winter that they had an eye on me. They offered me, I said okay. However, despite the agreement with Côtes d’Armor, they do not have the monopoly to make us sign pro.
- P.C.: Two years ago, you were only Juniors. At 20 years old, you are on World-Tour.
A.R.: “I don’t wonder about my age. I pushed the pedals; I went for it! I had other equally interesting proposals (Arkea-Samsic…), but it was the project that pleased me the most, with a long-term vision of myself.
- P.C.: A human and sporting project, reinforced by the arrival in WorldTour.
A.R.: “I wanted to go abroad to learn a new culture. I didn’t know, when I signed up, that we were going on WorldTour. I had to sign a second contract! Starting in such a team is the right time to do so. We’ll see if I can come back to France… If they want me.
- P.C.: Aren’t you afraid it’s going too fast?
A.R.: “There are 30 riders on three fronts, but I’m going to have a real program adapted to progress, without a Grand Tour. We have to go, there’s no risk, no pressure!
- P.C.: Do you have an anecdote already with the country and the team?
A.R.: “Speaking English is not easy for me… The riders we see on TV are very accessible. It is a pleasure to run with Davide Cimolai and Matthias Brändle, very easy-going people. They’re taking me under their wing.
- P.C.: What is your first professional rider appointment with the team?
A.R.: “My first internship in Israel, in December! Not a place that too many people would go on vacation. The guys say that the media picturesomething else than Israel really is, and when they came to France, they ask: “There are more police officers here than here. Is there a war in France?”.
- P.C.: The team looks like a great team…
A.R.: “When we announced “Côtes d’Armor becomes Israel’s reserve”, everyone was laughing at us. We laughed because we knew the project. When the opponents saw the results, they told us “it’s not bad”. I look forward to it. I’m ready for the fight!
CÔTES D’ARMOR-MARIE MORIN-VERANDA RIDEAU LE TREMPLIN BRETON
Since January 2019, and for two years, Israel Cycling Academy has made the Breton DN1 team its reserve team. Israel was looking for a team in France to run its young Israelis before taking them back. Côtes d’Armor Marie Morin-Veranda Rideau has become one with an important role. Mickaël Leveau, one of his DS, explains the genesis of the association to us: “Lionel Marie, whom I knew as CTR in Normandy a long time ago, called me in May-June 2018. They were looking for a support team and Lionel wanted it to be us. “Top start of a rich and motivating adventure between Israel Cycling Academy and one of the best DN in France. An initial two-year support, logistics and training. “It is the future; a professional structure with a reserve team. But I didn’t want Israel to have exclusivity over my riders. Direct energy is blocking those in the Vendée U. I don’t want my people to have to go pro in Israel. “This partnership is a win-win situation. “Last winter I took three riders on training courses with them to Benidorm, Stuart Balfour, Damien Poisson, Alexis Renard. I met the whole team, the staff and Sylvan Adams and Ron Baron. We also received equipment, the same bicycles (from Rosa), clothes, shoes, glasses, helmets, massage products, rain bags, overshoes, wheels, 1,500 cans. We also did free position tests for some riders. “Israel Cycling Academy has a constant eye on the performance of riders. At the end of 2018, it sent Israeli hopeful Itamar Einhorn to Brittany for six months before retrieving him in June. “In 2020, we will welcome a Finn sent by Kjell Carlstrom. We continue to train riders and we will feed the Continental team that is emerging. “Some of the team’s coaches also have access to the Côtes d’Armor data platform, to the point that they have contacted some of the riders to redo a power ratio to see how they evolve during the season. “Balfour and Renard were followed. Stuart goes pro in Continental, like Owen James, and Alexis, intern in August, goes pro in WorldTour.
Israel Cycling Academy proposed that Côtes d’Armor will be its Continental team
Mickael Leveau sees far: “It is rare for a foreign team to rely on a French Amateur team. Riders of the future WorldTour will be going down in Conti and we are planning common training courses in Girona, where they will be able to use their race service. We from the top of Brittany and Girona, close to the border, the flight is easy. “The leaders of Israel Cycling Academy have even offered Cotes d’Armor to be their Continental team: “We have studied this possibility with the help of Israeli and French partners. But the specifications in France are very heavy. In Continental with us, all riders must be declared (5 only in Belgium) and paid to the minimum wage. This represents €700,000 in salaries and expenses. When they saw this, they said, “we will focus on the World Tour” and build our Continental based in Girona. It will cost €500,000, three times less. We stay in DN1 with a better budget than a Slovak or Russian Conti… but with less easy access to some races. “The DS of Côtes d’Armor is looking forward to 2020. “The fact that Israel is passing WorldTour will refine our standard. When I suggest a runner, I want him to be mentally and athletically ready and I ask what role he will be given. One day, Manu Hubert (Arkea-Samsic) asked me: “Is he ready?”. I said, “It depends on which races you put him on.” They don’t have time to take care of everyone and sometimes they hire riders out of time. “We will not hear about it from our two partners.
Mickaël Leveau has a long-term vision. He wants to extend the partnership and has ambitions for his riders: “It’s already in the pipes. And I think about the rest. I took Thibault D’Hervez, 11th Junior in Yorkshire. I’m making a two-year plan with him. “This partnership gives credibility and strength to the project of a team created in 2003. Côtes d’Armor formed Chérel, Gautier, Gaudu, guides Renard to the highest level and dreams of doing so with D’Hervez and others. There’s no way we’re restricting the young people.