After quitting the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Guy Niv knew he had something to prove. The spotlight was on Niv as he attempted to become the first Israeli to complete a Grand Tour. After five stages, however, a stomach bug forced him to quit. The rider on Israel Start-Up Nation was crestfallen, to say the least.
“It was hard, I’m not going to lie, to be out of my first Grand Tour after five days,” Niv said in the lobby of the Royal Beach Tel Aviv Hotel at the ISUN launch in early November. “It was the first time I had the spotlight of the media on me. Cycling in Israel is not a day-to-day sport in the news, so it was a big deal. Everyone saw me failing. Journalists wrote articles about it. I felt a stone on my back for a year. I still had to prove something.”
Riding with his family
When Niv was eight, he started to ride with his dad and older brother. They’d ride in the forests in Israel as a weekend activity. When he turned 10, he joined a club in his hometown of Misgav.
“I fell in love with the sport. I was a very competitive kid, and started racing local races in Israel,” the 28-year-old rider said. “One step after another, I found myself on the national team. I had dreamed of being a pro, as a kid. I rode mountain bikes until I was 23, then I decided to switch to road racing. So this is only my fifth year as a roadie.”
The reason to switch, interestingly, was the rise of Israel Start-Up Nation. “It was a combination of two things. I felt like on the mountain bike I don’t have what it takes to go to the level I was expecting when I was junior and u-23,” Niv explained. “The other reason was the growth of the team, then known as Israel Cycling Academy. I heard at the end of 2016, the team would go from a continental team to a pro continental team.”
Israel Start-Up Nation was founded in 2014 by Ron Baron and Ran Margaliot. Margaliot himself was a pro, who aimed to be the first Israeli to ride the Tour. Although he rode pro with Saxo Bank toward the end of his career, he never achieved his goal. After his retirement, he partnered with Baron to create a team that would help Israelis get to the Grand Tours.
When the day came that Niv was to ride the Giro d’Italia, it was an unforgettable experience. For the first time ever, the Italian race would start in Israel.
Bittersweet first Giro
“There were so many things going on with me. It was a dream come true, of course, to ride a Grand Tour. When you are a kid you dream to do the big races, the Giro, the Vuelta, the Tour. But this was beyond a dream come true. I never expected to be racing from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and pass 10 km from my home,” he said.
Israeli interest definitely grew with the arrival of the Giro. Although many Israelis would know about the Tour, the bigger sports are soccer, and some basketball. When Niv raced the Giro, though, everyone showed up.
“All my village went and watched the Giro. It was almost too much but those days, I will never forget them,” Niv said. “We were skeptical about how many Israelis would go watch. But the roads were packed like any other stage in the Tour or Giro. It was an amazing atmosphere.”
After he quit early, he had to wait a year before he lined up for a Grand Tour once again. Getting sick in a stage race is something that can happen to anyone, new or experienced, but he knew he had to prove his critics wrong. In 2019, he finally got his redemption.
“It was a big relief for me. An important milestone,” the ISUN rider said of his ride at the 2019 Giro. “I didn tknow how much it was on me until I did the Stage 20. Since Stage 21 was a TT, finishing Stage 20 meant I had basically completed the Giro. With 200 m to the line I saw my brothers with the Israeli flag, and my father and mother.”
Niv finished the stage and immediately broke down in tears, tired, but so relieved to have finished his first three-week stage race.
Riding the biggest race in the world
The following year, he passed another milestone. In 2020, Niv became the first Israeli to ride the Tour de France. “I am grateful to Margaliot and Baron. It was Ran’s ambition to become pro, to do the TdF. He never made it, so when he retired he decided to help Israeli riders to achieve his dream.”
Niv credits Margaliot with giving him the confidence to make the transformation to ride Grand Tours. “Once I finished the TdF, I was super happy and honoured to fulfil his vision and fulfil the vision of this team. I am honoured and own a lot of Ron and Ran.”
ISUN has an increasingly large Canadian contingent. Of course the Montrealer Sylvan Adams has been an integral part of bringing Canucks to the squad, most recently with the addition of Steve Bauer, Hugo Houle and Gord Fraser. “I’ve learned a lot about Canada, as well as many other countries.” He said. “Our team is unique with many nationalities and I am privileged to know so many from around the world.”
The Canadian connection
Niv has since visited Quebec City and Montreal. He does mention learning about the “Canadian weather,” which can be quite different from the heat of Israel. But he also said that although, “Israel is the main country of this team, Canada is almost an equal part.”
For 2022, the Israeli rider wants to keep growing as a cyclist. “I want to target smaller races, maybe be leader or co-leader, and even go for my own results, or win some races. I know also with my climbing I can be a good domestique for Mike Woods, Jakob Fuglsang or Ben Hermans.”
With files from Matthew Pioro