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‘We haven’t bought our way into things, we’ve grown.’

Photo by: Noa Arnon/Israel Start-Up Nation

Alex Cataford is one of five Canadians on the Israel Start-Up Nation team and is proud to be the heart of the tight-knit squad. The 28 year old came to the team in 2019, after a stint with the UHC Healthcare team.

“One thing a lot of people may not know is how much of a family atmosphere we have on ISUN. We haven’t bought our way into things, we’ve grown,” Cataford said in early November in the lobby of the Royal Beach Tel Aviv Hotel. “We’ve kept the same spirit throughout our growth. It’s easy to look from outside, when we took the licence from Katusha. But we didn’t buy our way into it, we earned it. We kept the morals and goals the same.”

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In 2018, Cataford knew Israel Cycling Academy, as it was then known, as the competition. A fellow Canadian, performance director Paulo Saldanha, however, kick started talks with ICA. “I knew Paulo already and he is the one that got to the management,” the Ottawa cyclist said. “He got my foot in the door, so my name was in talks for being signed on. Eventually they decided to bring me onboard.”

Moving on up

Cataford was ready to race in Europe full-time. The two years before on UHC-Healthcare, he raced a half-North American/half-Euro schedule. He was more than ready to move and race in the big leagues.

By the time the team made the move from the second division to WorldTour, Cataford wasn’t surprised, but he was still excited when it all came about. “They had been talking about moving up to the WorldTour in 2020, up from pro continental. I knew it was a goal of theirs,” he said. “But it’s still cool to see how it all happened. So many people talk big but nothing happens, so it was cool to see them talk big and pull through.”

Focus on progress

The ISUN rider has noticed a progression these past few years in his own abilities. “I still remember doing my first WorldTour races, three years ago. It was a huge jump,” Cataford said. “WorldTour races are still super-hard, but now I’m accustomed to them. It’s normal. It’s great to be in the biggest races, but now it’s about improving, not just being in the top races, but influencing them.”

One of ISUN’s goals for 2021 is to be in the top-five points scoring teams in 2022. This year they were ninth. Cataford feels confident the goal is attainable. “We’ve been improving each year,” he said. “At the same time, we have some pretty great riders, Jakob Fuglsang, he’s won the Criterium du Dauphiné, Il Lombardia, some big races.”

He’s optimistic he can play a solid part in helping the team achieve its goals, and at the same time, knows he can keep his progression. “I was happy with my year. I know there are things I can improve. Being more consistent, always trying to be a better rider,” he said. “I want to be a more dynamic rider. I’ve always been a support rider, but I want to help in different opportunities.”

Hills and more hills

Cataford lives in Girona during the year, surrounded by the mountains. Such topography helps him train for the hilly Classics that he likes: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia and Amstel Gold.

Although Cataford knows he will keep helping the team, he might also find himself with some opportunities for himself as well. “I want to continue and help the team, but if I am covering moves and doing well, I can maybe someday get in a break and get a shot for myself,” he said. “I’m not sure yet of my program, but there will be a Grand Tour in the program. And I will be doing a lot of stage races. I really liked Volta a Catalunya, which is in my backyard.”