By Robert N. Rakowitz (aka Rako)
It’s the heart of the grand tour season, and as the Tour races by on your screen, like many of us, who train regularly and race on weekends you may dream of one day pedaling your way into the international spotlight. For some of us, we may be able to grab a local stage race. An even more select few, go on to compete at an international level by classifying for UCI Masters via the Gran Fondo or just having a vertical amateur cycling career. But racing on an international level is for many of us, just a July-induced fantasy.
When you think of racing internationally there are some iconic destinations that come to mind – Italy, Spain and of course France. But racing in Israel? Yes, Israel!
For the past few decades cyclists from around the world have had a chance to do just that. The Maccabiah Games have been held every four years in Israel since 1932. The Games seek to strengthen athletes’ Jewish identity and bonding through competitive sports. The Games are open to Jewish athletes and all Israeli athletes, regardless of religion.
Maccabi USA – the US delegation to the Games - has had some great success in cycling, going back to the 60’s when Brooklyn’s own Sam Zeitlin took the gold medal in the 7th Maccabiah Games in 1965. The Maccabi USA Cycling Team took a hiatus for a while and returned in the last Games in 2009, with Laura Lauder from California bringing home a bronze medal for the women’s time trial, and the rest of the team pulling in solid top-10 results.
Back in March I became involved with Maccabi USA as the Cycling Chair, running team selection and fundraising. Having this role is a real honor, as I am able to reach out to a host of athletes that have included the likes of Saul Raisin and Michael Friedman. At the same time I have the chance to work with local clubs to get the word out in an effort to drive US cyclists to apply to the team and to fundraise.
To get a better perspective on the Games, I sat down with Reed Albergotti, a Maccabi USA Cycling Alumnus and former CAT2 racer on CRCA Jonathan Adler in 2009. Reed, like many Jews involved in athletics, holds the Maccabiah Games in high regard, thinking of them as a competition for professionals on par with the Olympics. Reed, who works for The Wall Street Journal, initially got involved with Maccabi USA from a journalistic angle. In subsequent discussions, he was invited to the Maccabi US Cycling Team, and according to Albergotti, “I jumped at the chance. I was involved in fundraising and planning, and was able to take a couple of weeks off to spend at the pre-games program in Israel.”
The experience isn’t just about the competition, but about culture and bonding as well. Ahead of the Games, during the Israel Connect program, Reed was “impressed with the US Team’s focus on the infusion of Jewish and Israeli cultural pride; it wasn’t like we were training and then elevating our legs all day.” What’s more is the camaraderie. Albergotti continued, “all 15 people on the cycling team were great; I’ve kept in touch with some and consider them all friends.”
For many, being there is just as meaningful as competing; the opening ceremonies are in the national soccer stadium and are always packed, and are heralded with fireworks. Reed summed it up by saying “the environment was really charged. It was very special and we had the chance to interact with other country teams and even trade some uniform pieces as a way of connecting.”
Looking back on the road race and time trial events in 2009, Albergotti said the Russians outclassed everyone; “they brought guys that were part of Katusha’s pro-cycling team.” This became apparent during the road race in Bat Yam, a Tel-Aviv suburb. The race was a 70 mile course on a 14 mile circuit.
Reed recalls a race that saw some spectacular tactical maneuvers. “I think the Russians and some Israelis took off in a break. One of our guys was in the initial break. They got caught. Then, the Russians began toying with us. There were a lot of attacks, and then finally there were about ten guys, with me and another American. The Russians took off, and I chased hard after them, working for a teammate, but couldn’t bring them back in. I got dropped with a lap or so to go and couldn’t catch back on. I was completely cooked. Every guy on the squad gave absolutely everything they had. Two of the Russian guys had raced in the Beijing Olympics the year before”
But it’s not just about winning. Reed captures what many Maccabi Athletes feel. “As a Jew and someone who loves athletics, you always hear about the Maccabi Games, and being able to say that you competed in them is really special, and a real honor.” He continues, “but I didn’t get a big head from it.”
The cycling competition in 2013 will include a time trial in Ashdod on Friday July 19th and then a road race in Tiberias on Tuesday July 23rd. As the chair, we’re looking for interested riders to submit their candidacy to be part of the team. We are fielding a separate men’s and women’s squad with both open (6 men and 3 women) and masters categories for athletes 40 and above (16 men and 8 women). Based on previous results, I think metro area cyclists should strongly consider applying, not just for the privilege of representing the US, but also for getting serious results - the winning speed for the Open road race in 2009 was roughly 37kph over a 91km race, and the winning speed for the Open time trial was roughly 44kph over a 30km race.
Interested applicants can find all of the details on the Maccabi USA Cycling Page: http://www.maccabiusa.com/sports/sports-explorer/cycling.html.
As a non-profit, we are also accepting tax-deductible donations to help fund the cycling squad, which will go towards transport, medical, and uniform/kit fees.
So, as you cue up your DVR with races in France, Spain, and London this summer, know that some of you have the opportunity to race abroad too. Applications are open until October 31st, but we’re accepting them now, and race resumes can be updated through the season.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
In Episode #4 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France press room in Carmaux, the finish of Stage 10, Anthony Tan ropes back in Cyclingnews’ Daniel Benson and Procycling’s Eu
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