By Ethan Baron
The 2019 Giro d’Italia was an interesting one for Israel Cycling Academy. Ten top 10s from four different riders, all the riders finishing the race safely, and several forays into the breakaways were the team’s highlights from the race.
But was this enough?
It depends what “enough” means. Is it according to the team’s expectations, the riders’ expectations, the fans’ expectations, or perhaps the world’s expectations? Here, I am using my own expectations for the team coming in to the Giro, and the targets they publicly declared for themselves before the start.
So here are some of my thoughts on the team’s performance.
This was an interesting decision, as I wrote here, since it removed ICA from contention for the minor classifications. Stage 18 captured this dilemma well: it was ICA’s last shot at a sprint but was spoiled by the breakaway holding on. If ICA had put a rider in the breakaway, perhaps the outcome would have been better than Cimolai’s 7th place.
Stephen Puddicombe from Cycling Weekly commented on this at Cycling Weekly He gave ICA a rating of 3/10, writing: “The decision to prioritise sprints over getting into breakaways didn’t really work, as the consistent but unremarkable Davide Cimolai never fared better than fifth in the bunch finishes.”
I am still unsure about the claim that the choice to support Cimolai completely didn’t really work. After all, he did land ICA six top-tens and his consistency was one of the team’s bright spots.
As per the rating itself, we’ll get to that in a moment.
One of ICA’s three goals coming into the Giro was to get a stage win. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t achieve this as Plaza, Neilands, and Cimolai were all disappointed to come close to a podium finish.
In particular, both Plaza and Neilands rode well in successful breakaways, but missed out to Masnada and Peters.
While not netting a stage win or podium finish means the team underperformed relative to their expectations, it is important to remember that they came really close. Had a little more luck gone the way of Plaza or Neilands, had other riders been more willing to collaborate for instance, we could be talking about a way different outcome.
Some of the best stories to come out of the Giro from ICA involve the perseverance of Gebremedhin and Niv, each looking to finish a Grand Tour for the first time.
Gebremedhin was riding the Giro for the first time. His story is a remarkable one of overcoming obstacles in life: only 6 years ago he was a refugee in hiding in Sweden, and later spent two years collecting bottles before he saved enough to buy a bike. ICA gave him a chance to ride professionally in 2018, and this year named him to the Giro lineup in a bold move. But he worked hard all Giro and it paid off as he finished the race in 128th place. Le Monde wrote an excellent article (in French) about him here.
Niv, in the meantime, completed his revenge plot after being forced to withdraw from the Giro last year. He went deeper than he ever has and was visibly overcome with emotion at the end of stage 20, the last real test. See this video for the full story.
ICA had a better year than 2018 at the Giro in almost every measure.
They had ten top 10s compared to just two last year. Four riders had top 10 stage finishes, compared to just two. All their riders finished the race whereas last year one dropped out. They constantly had a presence in the lead-outs and were pace-making in the peloton.
Felix Lowe from Eurosport wrote at that “Israel Cycling Academy did little to warrant their inclusion as a wildcard team and it will be a surprise to see them return next year now that the deal which saw Israel granted the Grande Partenza last year has run out.” (Here is the full article).
While that is pretty harsh, whether or not ICA will return to the Giro next year is a valid question.
Their offseason moves, such as signing Cimolai, and the momentum from last year were big boosts to ICA’s wildcard bid. But next year, the number of wildcard slots will be cut down to two, and unless ICA finishes the season in the top two Pro Continental teams this year, it is indeed hard to see them being invited back over the local teams who constantly animated breakaways and netted stage wins this year.
So the question is: was their improved performance this year good enough to potentially merit an invite back to the Giro next year? Much will depend on the second half of the season and the team’s offseason moves, and it is doable.
To summarize: the team didn’t get a stage win but had 10 top-10s. They weren’t super active in breakaways but yet had good chances that just didn’t go their way. They brought several unknown quantities but everyone finished.
While it’s easy to focus on the lack of stage results, I think you still have to look at the full picture. ICA had a better performance than last year and the riders grew a lot from the experience. Joe Robinson of Cyclist puts it well when he gives the team a score of 5/10 and writes: “Regardless, the Giro would have been another good learning curve for this young team that have big ambitions of the WorldTour and Tour de France in the future.” (Full story here).
I think this is especially important to keep in mind: ICA brought several young riders to the race and while they will be upset not to find a stage win or even podium, this was a fantastic learning experience for the likes of Niv, Gebremedhin and Dunne. Hopefully, these experiences help propel the team towards the World Tour and Tour de France spots they are working towards.
Ultimately, this Giro was a mixed bag for ICA, and my rating puts them somewhere between good and bad with a score of 5/10.
In my opinion, they’ve done enough to be considered for an invite back next year. Seeing whether the team will get invited to the late-season autumn classics in Italy, especially Il Lombardia, will show whether RCS agrees.