Gino Bartali – three times a winner of the Giro d’Italia – will next month be posthumously awarded Israeli citizenship for helping save the lives of hundreds of Jews during World War II.
Meanwhile, the local organisers of the Giro d’Italia’s Big Start in Jerusalem next month insist there will be no boycott of the race, reports AFP.
At a press conference in Tel Aviv on Sundat, Daniel Benaim, chief executive and owner of Comtec Group which is organising the opening days of the race, said that “for the moment, there is full participation by all the teams, and we anticipate no problems.”
Israel will host the opening three days of the race, with an individual time trial in Jerusalem followed by road stages from Haifa to Tel Aviv and from Be’er Sheva to Eilat.
It will be the first time any of cycling’s Grand Tours has started outside Europe, but the choice by Giro d’Italia owners RCS Sport to stage the Big Start in Israel has proven hugely contentious.
After the country – which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary – was formally announced as host of the 101st edition of the race, human rights groups urged organisers to choose another location.
In December, it was reported that RCS Sport was drawing up contingency plans to move the start of the race to the Middle East after tensions rose in the middle eastern state following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
Meanwhile, the Italian newspaper Il Tirreno has reported that Bartali, who died at the age of 85 in 2000 and five years ago was recognised by Israel as one of the ‘Righteous Among Nations’ for his role in helping people escape the Holocaust will be awarded posthumous Israeli citizenship.
The rider, known as Gino Il Pio (‘the Pious’) acted as a courier, hiding false documentation in the tubes of his bike on training rides during the war, and also hid Jews in his home in Florence.
Tensions in Israel have risen in the past month, with around 40 Palestinians reported to have been killed and hundreds injured by Israeli security forces acting against protests on the border with Gaza.
Israel has rejected appeals from both the United Nations and European for independent investigations to be held into the casualties.
Last week, the actor Natalie Portman, a joint US-Israeli citizen, hit the headlines after pulling out of an awards ceremony in Jerusalem, the city of her birth.
Portman had been due to receive the Genesis Prize, which recognises “outstanding achievement by individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields [who] embody the character of the Jewish people.”
Without specifically mentioning the situation in Gaza, a statement issued on behalf of Portman said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.