by Marcus Leach
Fresh from joining Tinkoff-Saxo for the forthcoming season Peter Sagan, winner of the Green jersey at this year's Tour de France for a third consecutive time, has spent his off-season helping to kick-start cycling in Israel.
Sagan, along with Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat and the president of the Cycling Academy, Ron Baron, was in Jerusalem this week to launch the first Israel based Pro Continental team. Set up by the Cycling Academy the team will aim to help the development of young Israeli athletes, and will make its debut in January at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.
The team includes five Israelis, four professional Polish racers, two Slovakians - including Sagan - and one professional cyclist from the Czech Republic.
One of the aims of the team, according to Barkat, is part of a social and sports initiative to include countries without cycling cultures, with the goal of one day participating in the sport’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France.
"I’m a big believer in sports, and as a sportsman myself, I understand that sports is not an expense, it’s an investment," Barkat told a press conference at the launch of the team. "Most importantly, I have seen that kids who are brought up in sports cultures have improved education, quality of life, team work and development potential, and that is why, as mayor, I am aggressively pursuing excellence in sports."
In a brief statement Sagan said it was his first visit to Jerusalem and that he was honoured to be selected to be the team’s leader.
"I’m very happy for this project and I thank everybody for this idea, and working on this [initiative], and choosing me for this," he said. "I want to see the growth of a lot of young guys and think this a very great opportunity to work with riders in a country where cycling is not very popular."
Meanwhile Baron said the goal of the team is to "give Israeli cyclists the chance to one day become the next Peter Sagan."
"Peter comes from a small country of 5 million people who normally would not have the chance to become top professionals like guys from Italy or Germany or France," he said. "But he made it, and I think that he will be an inspiration for young cyclists from Israel.
"Maybe a cyclist from Eastern Europe or Israel can one day become a Tour de France cyclist like Peter Sagan."