by Aaron S. Lee
The Israel Cycling Academy (ICA) has embarked on its most ambitious season to date since its debut in 2015 and two Canadians are among the 16 riders – including five reigning national champions – currently being leaned on to help develop the sport of cycling in the team’s home country of Israel.
Former WorldTour rider and 2015 Canadian road race champion Guillaume Boivin, 27, is joined by 23-year-old team rookie Ben Perry on a diverse roster riding for Israel’s first pro team.
“Guillaume and Ben are for sure strong overall riders,” said ICA sports director and 2008 Paris-Nice stage winner Kjell Carlström, who rode for both Sky and Liquigas during his own 10-year pro career. “Guillaume is really good in the sprint and Ben is also pretty fast.
“Ben still needs to learn quite a lot in the European cycling world but he’s doing that all the time and we are very happy with his progress.
“Guillaume has a lot of experience and is really good in the lead-outs, which was apparent on the first stage as he did a perfect job and that’s what we expect from him.”
The ICA is currently racing Tour d’Azerbaijan, a five-day UCI Europe Tour stage race, and has already made an impact with an opening stage win by Estonian champion Mihkel Räim, as well as a third-place podium on Stage 2 from former LottoNL-Jumbo and Rabobank rider Dennis van Winden (NED). Räim also took second in a crash-marred Stage 3 finish in Gabala.
The team has already raced Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem, Brabantse Pijl and Tour of Croatia in the lead-up to its Azerbaijan return – a race where the team picked up its very first victory two years ago.
“This is an awesome calendar for us,” Boivin told Canadian Cycling Magazine. “We didn’t have the greatest results in the spring, but maybe with a bit more luck we would have because we had plenty of bad luck in a few of the races. But our calendar is WorldTour level.
Perry agreed with Boivin’s assessment of the team’s ambitious program.
“We are doing some races that have put us in the deep end for sure,” admitted the St. Catharines native. “Pro cycling looks so easy on TV with the entire width of the road covered by riders at races like Gent-Wevelgem, but they are all doing 500 watts – it’s not easy.”
Before signing on with ICA, Boivin raced for Optum powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies in 2015, the same year he won the national title. Previously he spent three seasons with Pro Continental squad Spidertech (2010 to 2012) before making the jump to WorldTour for two years with Cannondale (2013 and 2014).
But for the Montréal native, who has fully recovered since shattering his shoulder in a crash at Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay last season and is expected to return to the nationals in June, the opportunities that await are something that drives Boivin forward.
“For me, this team has great potential and also I feel I am really part of the core group that started here last year,” said the 2010 under-23 world road race championships bronze medallist. “They have a goal to be the Tour de France in next two years and hopefully the Giro d’Italia in 2018. I would be thrilled to help this team reach those milestones.”
As for Perry, who joined the team this season after spending the past two years with UCI Continental team Silber Pro Cycling, the former national junior cyclo-cross champion (2010) had his best year to date in 2016 with a stage win at GP Saguenay and second overall, as well as a third straight U23 national road race title and a silver medal at the Canadian road nationals behind winner Bruno Langlois (Garneu-Québecor).
However, he hopes his best is yet to come.
“I just want to keep growing,” Perry told CCM. “Every race is just another experience. Last year I would have been happy with a half decent result and now I feel disappointed with 11th [on Stage 2]. I am in the top 13 on general classification and last year I would have been over the moon, but this year I want more and hopefully, I can keep getting higher results each and every year I continue to race.”