(JTA) – Israel has been named one of four wild card teams to participate in the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race. The first three stages of the three-week bike race will be held in Israel, starting in Jerusalem on May 4. The four wild card teams were announced on Jan. 22. Thirty teams will participate in the race. The wild card invitations are offered to teams who do not generally race at the Grand Tour level. This is Israel’s first professional cycling team, though only five of the 24 riders are Israeli. This year’s race is the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races – the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta – will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history. The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.
The route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar. In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.