Pro Challenge rider excels in road races when not serving in Israeli military |

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Pro Challenge rider excels in road races when not serving in Israeli military

Guy Sagiv, the current Israeli national road cycling champion and the youngest member of Team Cycling Academy at 20 years old.

Guy Sagiv, the current Israeli national road cycling champion and the youngest member of Team Cycling Academy at 20 years old.

It took Guy Sagiv just under four hours to earn a spot on Israel’s first international cycling team.

In late June, the 20-year-old took Israel’s burgeoning biking scene by storm when he won the Israeli National Championships road race in Beit Guvrin, a national park teeming with ruin-filled caves. The route was alternately hilly and flat — a perfect combination for a road specialist like Sagiv — and, after notching a rip-fast time of 3:54:23, he became the youngest rider to win the championships. He even managed to beat three cyclists who had already signed to the team, known as Team Cycling Academy.

Sagiv’s impressive finish drew the attention of fellow Israeli Ran Margaliot, a former pro cyclist charged with building Team Cycling Academy from the ground up. He wanted to attract the nation’s most promising cyclists, including veterans like time trial specialist Yoav Bear, and Sagiv was a near-perfect match: Young, hungry and ready to prove himself in Europe and beyond.

“Every year, I come to win, but, this time, it happened,” said Sagiv, who never placed higher than the top 10 at the Championships before this year. “It’s the biggest race in Israel, so every rider who is good comes to win.”

Within days of taking the national title, Sagiv joined the untested Team Cycling Academy as its youngest member, even though he’s still enlisted with the Israel Defense Forces. Cycling is relatively small in Israel — the road Championships saw fewer than 40 competitors — but Margaliot hopes putting his athletes in the global spotlight will boost interest in the sport. And, it only helps that Slovakian superstar Peter Sagan is a presenting sponsor.

“We were looking to give the riders the very best support they can have,” Margaliot said shortly after arriving in Steamboat Springs for the start of the USA Pro Challenge. “They’ll be racing with high-level teams, the Tour de France teams. It’s not typical for a young team to have a big international calendar, but we made a big effort for that. We want to do well and we believe in this race.”

Now, it’s time for Sagiv and his team to make a statement. The Pro Challenge is easily their largest race to date, and Margaliot is confident that several weeks of training high in the Italian Alps will help his sea-level riders cope with Colorado’s dizzying altitudes.

A week before the start of Stage 2 — the first true test of climbing — the Summit Daily sports desk spoke with Sagiv about his groundbreaking win and how he’s balancing the life of a top-tier cyclist with the demands of military service.

Summit Daily News: You’re Team Cycling Academy’s newest and youngest recruit. Did you find the team, or did the team find you?

Guy Sagiv: Actually, cycling is pretty small in Israel. There aren’t many people doing it. They found me — after the Championships they asked me if I wanted to join. It was very exciting to win the Championships, and it was really important to me that, after many years of racing and competing, I saw a reward for my hard work. This team is very good, a very good thing for me.

SDN: Winning the Championships was your big break in the cycling world. What kind of terrain did you train on for the road course?

GS: We have all sorts of terrain. You go from flat to hilly roads, and then we have tall mountains in the north, where I live. In my home, the road is very quiet. It’s good for training — the roads are hilly, with mountains and not many cars. I like it very much. Usually, we head out once a week for a race (training ride) on Saturdays. In the summers, it is very hot, above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). Then in the winter, it’s very nice weather, about 20 degrees Celsius (65 Fahrenheit), with very little rain. The days are beautiful. It’s a very good place to train in the winter.

SDN: You’re a strong all-around rider, but you’re also more familiar with single-day races than a multi-day race like the Pro Challenge. What’s your strategy for the stages?

GS: This is my first race as a professional rider and the Israeli national champion, and I want to be the best — show I can be the best — but I don’t have large expectations. The stages are brand new and the roads are brand new. I just want to show that we are here and strong and ready to compete. I’m very proud to wear the title of Israeli champion and to bring that with me.

SDN: The Pro Challenge is known for high altitudes and mountain passes. Can you prepare for steep climbs in Israel, or did you have to travel elsewhere for training?

GS: Two weeks ago we were in the Alps, in Italy, and that was the best way to prepare for this race. This is a very, very high level race, and we wanted to be prepared for the other bikers. There will be bikers from the Tour de France. It’s very stressful and very exciting at the same time. It’s my biggest race yet — the biggest race in my life — and it’s the biggest for the team. We’re very young, but it should be very good, I hope.

SDN: You’re not just a cyclist — you’re also on active duty with the Israel Defense Forces. How do you balance mandatory military service with cycling and training?

GS: They let me do my racing and biking and whatever I need. It’s a program through the army — they let guys who want to continue with a sport have the opportunity. It happens a lot in the military, that they will not let every athlete continue, but they like to let the very good guys continue. You can see this is a very good opportunity for me. I’ve been riding since I was 10 years old and racing since I was 12 years old, but this is only my first race as a professional. I did not want to miss it.

SDN: What happens when the cycling season ends? Is the Academy a year-round option, or will you have to train solo until next season?

GS: It is going to be a couple months every year, so not all year. After this race, we go back to Europe for a few races, then it’s back to home. We will be training with the team two or three times a week, but then it is time with friends and family.