Giro d’Italia’s “Big Start” in Israel
Sylvan Adams, 58, is funding the construction of the Middle East’s first Olympic velodrome, slated to open in Tel Aviv in May 2018. (photo from margolin-bros.com/en/project/Velodrom)
In Europe, the Giro d’Italia bicycle race ranks in status with baseball’s World Series or hockey’s Stanley Cup. Since the beloved Italian sports extravaganza’s initial race in 1909, the multi-stage race has never started outside Europe – until now. Next May, the annual event’s starting flag will be waved in the Holy City, thanks in big part to Sylvan Adams – the Montreal billionaire now living in Tel Aviv who himself is a competitive bicycle racer.
Adams, 58, is funding the construction of the Middle East’s first Olympic velodrome, slated to open in Tel Aviv in May 2018, in time for the Israel-based initial part of the 23-day Giro d’Italia. The Israeli team is all but guaranteed to receive one of four wildcard invitations for the race.
The bike-racing stadium, called simply the Velodrome, is part of the National Sports Centre being built by the Tel Aviv Foundation, by Mazor-First Architects. Located on Bechor Shitrit Street in the Hadar Yosef neighbourhood, the complex will gentrify a once-impoverished area. Budgeted at $11 million, the 7,100-square-metre biking facility will be jointly owned by the Olympic Committee of Israel and the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Adams, who made aliyah in December 2015, is honorary president of the organizing committee of the race’s “Big Start” in Jerusalem.
The three-week Giro is widely considered the most beautiful of cycling’s three Grand Tours, ahead of the sporting leviathan of the Tour de France and Spain’s lower-key Vuelta a España. Ministers from Israel and Italy met at Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in September to sign an agreement that the opening three stages of next year’s Giro will be held in Israel.
Like the other Grand Tours, the modern editions of the Giro d’Italia normally consist of 21 daylong segments (stages) over a 23-day period that includes two rest days. All of the stages are timed to the finish, each stage’s time added to the previous. The rider with the lowest total time is the leader of the race and gets to don the coveted pink jersey, called maglia rosa, worn by the leader of the general classification.
Adams, who has until recently been publicity shy, today lives in a penthouse overlooking the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv’s sea-side bicycle path. A two-time world outdoor cycling champion in his age category, his most recent title was won at the World Masters Championship, held in Manchester, England, in November 2015. Adams, who began cycling competitively more than two decades ago, is a six-time Canadian and 15-time Quebec champion. He won four gold medals at two Pan-American meets, and a total of five golds at the 2009 and 2013 Maccabiah Games.
His dream is to turn Tel Aviv into “the Amsterdam of the Middle East,” i.e. a city as bike-friendly as the Dutch capital. He believes something similar can be done in Tel Aviv, where traffic congestion and a parking shortage are reaching a crisis, as more and more motorists come in from “satellite” cities.
“Petach Tikva, for example, is eight kilometres from the heart of Tel Aviv. That can take an hour to drive some mornings. By cycling, it is 20 to 30 minutes,” he said.
Adams first visited Israel nearly four decades ago. He and his wife of 33 years, Margaret, a native of London, England, met while volunteering on a kibbutz.
Now retired, Adams has given up his involvement with the family business, Iberville Developments Ltd., the real estate giant founded after the Second World War by his father, Marcel Adams, a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor. The younger Adams was its chief executive officer and his son Josh, one of his four children, is now running the company, one of the largest owners of commercial properties in Quebec.
Gil Zohar is a journalist based in Jerusalem.