Olé! Spain is calling the Israel Start-Up Nation team, and we are off to Burgos for the Vuelta a España once again!

ISN is sending a mixed group to the final Grand Tour of the year. “We have a fairly inexperienced team taking part in this year’s Vuelta, blended with a few experienced riders like Sep Vanmarcke and Mads Würtz Schmidt,” said team manager Kjell Carlström.

“We’ll be pushing for stage success and to build further experience towards the future. It will be great to see youngsters like Itamar Einhorn and Seb Berwick try their limits.”

Sep Vanmarcke will head up the team, which consists of Sebastian Berwick, Alexander Cataford, Davide Cimolai, Itamar Einhorn, Guy Niv, James Piccoli and Mads Würtz Schmidt.

Six of these riders were in the Vuelta a Burgos, so they are conveniently placed – no travel difficulties for Vanmarcke, Cataford, Einhorn, Niv, Piccoli and Würtz Schmidt.

‘Israel is behind you’

It will be the Grand Tour debut for two of our young riders, including Israeli Itamar Einhorn. The sprinter knows that the latter part of the course will be very difficult, but says, “Riding a Grand Tour is a challenge and I think I can do it. I feel good, I feel ready, and I feel really motivated.”

Einhorn will join Guy Niv in the squad, only the second time that two Israelis have been together in a Grand Tour line-up. Actually, it will be Niv’s second Grand Tour this year, having already participated in the Giro d’Italia.

“Two Israelis will take the start at this year’s Vuelta, validating our efforts in developing Israeli cyclists,” said team owner Sylvan Adams. “Each will have a different role on ISN’s eight man squad, with Guy being largely a breakaway stage hunter, while Itamar will be the team’s principal sprinter.”

“Guy is ISN’s most experienced GT rider, with the Vuelta representing his second Grand Tour this year following his participation in the Giro, while this is the first Grand Tour of Itamar’s career. I for one am excited to see what they can do over the three week race. Y’alla, all of Israel is behind you!”

ISN targets stages

Our sports directors Oscar Guerrero and Zak Dempster took a critical look at this year’s challenging course. “It’s a diverse Vuelta this year with quite a few sprint opportunities and of course the usual collection of tough mountain days. Along with this there are a number of medium mountain stages that will be really suited to strong breaks.

“For us the most important thing is that we are specific on the days that suit our guys. We’re not going in with a GC guy so that opens up so many opportunities for every rider on the team to have their day to really target a stage (or two or three).”

Our sprinters are also up to the challenge. Davide Cimolai and Itamar Einhorn will be dividing up the sprint duties, depending on how they feel each day. Cimolai showed us his good form in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, with three second places in bunch sprints, while Einhorn has a win since coming back from a knee injury.

The course:

Happily, the race returns to 21 stages this year. And the entire race will be within the boundaries of Spain, to avoid any possible quarantines or limitations due to COVID. Last year, it was only 18 stages and held in October.

In an interesting twist, though, it starts and ends with individual time trials – no ceremonial procession into Madrid on the final stage. In fact, the race totally avoids the national capital city this year.

What’s there to look forward to? Eight flat stages, four hilly stages, seven mountain stages (six of them with mountaintop finishes), and the two time trials. Those climbs include the Lagos de Covadonga and the Alto d’el Gamoniteiru, and we are seeing some rather eye-popping gradients.

You can read our complete stage preview here


Sebastian Berwick

Sebastian Berwick, 21, Australia: This is Seb’s first Grand Tour and his first year at WorldTour level – quite an honour! He is also the youngest on this year’s line-up.  Our young climber was part of our winning team time trial in Coppi e Bartali, and most recently appeared in San Sebastian.

Seb says: “It feels great to be lining up for my first Grand Tour and as a neo pro it’s pretty cool too, I just really want to have some good performances. My first goal will be to finish the race, haha, but I definitely want to be active in some of the breakaways in some mountain stages and really have some good digs at stages hopefully. We haven’t pin-pointed any stages yet, but I’m sure there will be some in the second and third week that really suit me.”

Oscar and Zak say: “In his first neo-pro year that has had some ups and downs (like all do), this is an important learning step for him. He’s a guy we will hopefully see present in the breaks on the big mountain stages especially in the second week.”

Alexander Cataford

Alexander Cataford, 27, Canada: This is Alex’s second Grand Tour, having started the Giro d’Italia in 2020. The time trial specialist will have his eyes on the race’s two individual time trials. He too was in San Sebastian and did his final warm-up on Burgos.

Alex says: “I am very excited to be making my debut at the Vuelta this year. Spain has become my European home, so I am very excited to be racing here. Typically, my role in the team is to support our GC riders, but we will be going to the Vuelta with a more dynamic team focusing on stage results. So, it will be a bit of a shift for me. I am really looking forward to being in the race for results and taking my chances in some breakaways. I’ll be looking for opportunities in the medium hills and the more mountainous terrain in the second half of the race.”

Oscar and Zak say: “After focusing mostly on plying his trade as a domestique for the first part of the season, now Alex will get chances to chase breaks on the hard stages and chase the results, too.”

Davide Cimolai

Davide Cimolai, 31, Italy: Our fiery Italian sprinter is one of the team’s veterans, with nine Grand Tours behind him, including this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Giro was very successful for him, as seven top ten stage finishes, including three second places, put him in the overall second for the points jersey.

Davide says: “This will be first time I will ride two Grand Tours in one year, so it will be new experience for me. I feel good, even though I have had problems training lately, because of the bad weather. Plus, this race is important for me, as I have the European and World Championships coming up, too.”

Oscar and Zak say: “One of the most consistent and solid performers for the team in the last three years. Cimo will be there to fight for results and also help Itamar learn what it is to be a sprinter at the top level.”

Itamar Einhorn

Itamar Einhorn, 23, Israel: Sprinter Itamar is making his Grand Tour debut in Burgos. He holds the honor of being the first Israeli to be on the podium in a UCI-sanctioned race, when he finished third on a stage of the 2020 Tour of Colombia. His 2021 season got off to a late start due to a knee injury, but he topped off his comeback with a win for the Israel Cycling Academy team at the Visegard 4 Bicycle Race – GP Polski in July.

Itamar says: “I’m really excited going to my first Grand Tour, and especially the Vuelta, because it looks like this year it has pretty good options for the sprint. I will go for some of the sprints and on others I will help Davide Cimolai. We will see how it goes each day. The first week is good for me, the second week is getting harder, but it will help to train my climbing abilities. The third week is actually super hard, so I hope to make it to the end. I had a knee injury early this year, but now I am ready to go again. Riding a Grand Tour is a challenge and I think I can do it. I feel good, I feel ready, and I feel really motivated.”

Oscar and Zak say: “After a complicated season, the Vuelta comes at the right time, and at the right time of his career. There are plenty of sprints for him to learn his craft and fight for results and of course it’s an important step in his career which should help him to progress.”

Guy Niv

Guy Niv, 27, Israel: Guy is facing his second Grand Tour of the year, having ridden the Giro d’Italia this spring. It is, in fact, his third GT, as he also rode the Tour de France last year. The veteran rider has been in numerous stage races this year, most recently the Settimana Ciclistica Italiana and the Vuelta a Burgos.

Guy: “For me, this Vuelta is a huge mental challenge because of the circumstances surrounding my selection. The team offered me the chance to do two Grand Tours this year, and I decided to take on this challenge with a full heart and look at it as an honor and an opportunity. I will do everything to turn this into a great three weeks, to look for opportunities to fight for a win from a breakaway, and also to help my friend and teammate Itamar Einhorn in his first Grand Tour. For me, it will be my fifth, and – as I said – the second this season after the Giro.”

Oscar and Zak say: “Guy definitely took a big, step in the Giro to being more competitive at the top level. In the Vuelta he now has the chance to make an even bigger step forward with complete freedom to enter breaks and fight for real results. It’s a big opportunity for him at this stage of his career.”

James Piccoli

James Piccoli, 29, Canada: James is returning to the Vuelta, having also ridden it in 2020. He has had an excellent first part of the season, with the highlight being second on GC in the Tour of Rwanda, where he finished in the top five in five of the eight stages. He has not raced since the Tour de Suisse in June, but is ready to give it his all in Spain.

James says: “I’m really excited to return to the Vuelta, and I’ve prepared really well for it. I’m ready for the heat and the climbs and I can’t wait to be an aggressor in the race. I’m putting the finishing touches on my form here in Burgos and it should be all systems go for the Vuelta!”

Oscar and Zak say: “After bouncing back from last season well with some solid results, he’s gotten another shot at the Vuelta. James is one for the high mountains and there’s plenty of those for him to prove himself.”

Mads Würtz Schmidt

Mads Würtz Schmidt, 27, Denmark: This has been a great year so far for Mads, starting with his winning stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and continuing with his winning the Danish national road title. Riding the Vuelta will complete his Grand Tour experience, as he also ridden the Giro and Tour once each.

Mads says: “I’m looking forward to the Vuelta. It will be a good experience to do my first Vuelta. I have ambitions to win a stage. My shape is really good, so I believe it’s possible if I get myself in a position to win. I’m racing in Burgos now and have been very strong, so the training over the summer has been very good. It only makes it cooler to do the Vuelta in my Danish champion kit. I love every kilometer I race and ride in the jersey.”

Oscar and Zak say: “One of our best breakaway riders.  When he’s there, he usually converts it into a result. He showed in Burgos he’s definitely ready, so with an intelligent strategy he should be a contender on a number of stages.”

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke, 33, Belgium: Sep will have his hands full guiding the team and looking for his own chances as well. He too has had a good season so far, with top five finishes this spring in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Le Samyn and Tour of Flanders. Most recently he finished second overall in the difficult Settimana Ciclistica Italiana, with podium finishes in three of the five stages.

Sep says: “Ten years ago I rode my first Vuelta, and my first Grand Tour. It was a big thing and was pretty hard back then because I was 22 or 23. It is ten years later now and I am happy to go back. I’m looking forward to it. I did Settimana Italiana a few weeks ago and then Vuelta a Burgos.  I feel ok and look forward to next week.

“Of course, I’m not going for GC — I’m a little bit too big for that but I can always try (laughs). No, but I look to find some moments where I can go for a stage. It’s always a dream of every rider to win a stage in a Grand Tour. Next to that I will work for the team, of course, and I hope to get in good work for hopefully the Worlds and then Roubaix.”

Oscar and Zak say: “As we saw in Burgos, Sep is definitely ready for the Vuelta and the end of the season. We can expect him to lead the team and be present in those tough breaks fighting for results. He’s also a great reference for the sprinters in the lead-out.”

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com

ICA ready for big Portuguese challenge: ten days of high-level racing

The Israel Cycling Academy Continental team is about to take the start in the Volta a Portugal, a ten-day stage race from Lisbon to Viseu.

The Volta a Portugal is one of the biggest races the Continental team can compete in and has an extraordinary number of race days: ten. For most of ICA’s riders in Portugal, it will be the first time racing so many consecutive days.

“Yes,” Oded Kogut, one of the selected Israeli riders says, “ten days in a row is definitely going to be a challenge. For me, it’s a big step, as I have never raced so many consecutive days before.”

But the 20-year-old is excited to race the Volta a Portugal. “It is my biggest race so far. I am especially looking forward to the short prologue and the last individual time trial.”

Ben Moshe as road captain

One of the other Israelis on the team, Yuval Ben Moshe, shares Kogut’s sentiment about the biggest race in his career. He is selected as the road captain in the team, after having gained experience from his WorldTour-team-companions earlier this year in Hungary.

“I will try to help everyone as much as I can, and in the meantime better learn myself how to read a race. I hope I can grow in my responsible role throughout the race and do a good job,” Ben Moshe says.

Upped training volume

ICA’s sports director Zak Dempster thinks that spending energy wisely will be a key to success. “The Volta a Portugal is a famous race, mostly because of its difficulty. For the whole team, it will be a great opportunity to take a big step forward in their development.”

In order to be optimally prepared, Israel Cycling Academy gradually intensified their training over the last two seasons, and especially in the last months with a training camp and several races.

Sports director Cherie Pridham says that having a few races will do them well in Portugal: “The guys are ready for a tough, ten-day stage race like this. The intense training should leave them prepared.”

Mackellar: “We can be one of the stronger teams”

Mason Hollyman, who wore the young classification jersey in the GP Torres Vedras last month, Alastair Mackellar, stage winner in that same Portuguese race, and Riley Pickrell are ICA’s non-Israeli forces for the Volta a Portugal.

Mackellar, having had an up in Torres Vedras with a victory and a down with a crash on the last day, says he is particularly eager to race stages 4 and 6. “These two stages look punchy: hard rolling days that would most likely bring a reduced bunch to the line. I expect bigger, WorldTour and Pro Conti teams to control, just like in Torres Vedras, however, I think we could have a chance those days.”

Hollyman agrees with him: “I think the whole team prepared very well for this one. We had a team camp and put some good work in together. Torres Vedras and the Vuelta Castilla y Leon were perfect preparation races for going into this race. A successful race for us would be podiuming in a stage and also being up there in the GC.”

Zak Dempster and Cherie Pridham agree: “Top-10 in the GC, a podium, and having everyone through to the finish will be a great boost for Israel Cycling Academy, the team, and for everyone’s development and their futures.”

  • Yuval Ben Moshe
  • Edo Goldstein
  • Riley Pickrell
  • Oded Kogut
  • Mason Hollyman
  • Saned Abu Fares
  • Alastair Mackellar

Sports directors: Cherie Pridham and Zak Dempster

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com