Israel is a Middle Eastern country of 8.7 million people located on the shores of the Mediterranean sea. It has a predominantly Jewish population and is regarded as the biblical Holy Land. Racing a bike in Israel has been on my
The four day UCI Samarathon Desert was a great way to see the southern Arava Desert of Israel. Their organization has built a great event which allowed us riders to just show up, shut off our minds and ride our bikes through a very beautiful part of the World. Joining 300 other riders in the event’s fifth year, we covered nearly 230 km through the desert with close to 40% being on nice single track. Coming from Canada we are spoiled with the trails we have, but I was definitely impressed with the quality of riding that was offered to us in Israel. The scenery was pretty epic as well, with cliffs, canyons, sand dunes and some great views of the mountains of Jordan in the distance.
Race wise my partner, Soren Nissen from Luxembourg, and I
In the prologue I did my best to stick to Soren’s wheel as we had to pass over 15 teams as we were given one of the last start positions in the time trial format. The course was a ribbon of smooth single track through a very rocky and unforgiving desert terrain. Luckily we escaped unscathed but lost over a minute on the Israeli leaders, signalling that the days ahead were going to be a tough battle. After the stage we were told it was just 25 km back to camp, and there would be a tailwind, so we opted to ride. It ended up being closer to 40 km, mostly into a headwind which left us both dehydrated and with some hunger pains. The scenery was amazing though with the mountains of Jordan to the east and a high desert plateau leading to Egypt on the right. This part of the country was really skinny with just 50km separating the three countries!
Heading to stage two we missed the bus transfer back to the start as we thought it was 6:15 am not
This day the race started with a big climb up to a desert plateau at 500 meters. I set the pace dropping everyone except the Israeli team in the
Once back at camp we settled into our Villa camp on the edge of a small lake in Timna Park. It was a real oasis in the desert with beautiful rock walls surrounding us. The restaurant on site served some great food for us racers and showed off why Israeli cuisine is so popular around the World. The highlights were the Shakshuka, hummus, tahini and falafels – although pretty much anything after a long day of racing generally tastes good. The awards ceremonies in the evenings were entertaining events with one of the race organizers, Nimi, putting on a bit of a comedy show and the pictures of the day would allow us to see just what beauty we had missed while our heads were down pushing our pedals as hard as we could. The awards would often go past 9pm, and the race days would start with 4:45-5 am wake up calls. This combination led to some short nights! I guess this is why the race slogan was “Ride hard, live Harder!” Being a 24 hour racer these short nights probably played into our favour as I’m used to riding tired while Israeli’s XC racers are likely used to being a bit better rested!.
Stage three was the Queen’s stage and took us 85km across a desert plateau before dropping down a cool canyon and then on some rough river beds back to the race finish. This part of the race felt pretty wild and let us really soak in the outback of the desert. We extended our lead a couple minutes as the Israelis crashed at one point while trying to follow our wheels. Being the polite Canadian I started to ease up to let them catch back up but Soren reminded me that they had refused to stop for a pee break earlier in the stage when things were calm. Coming from a road racing background, if the jersey leaders aren’t respected in the peloton then they will put the hammer down later on if things go sideways. He was right, so we took off and we had six motivated Israelis trying to chase us down into a nasty headwind. I was suffering this day but Soren
It was a rough night as we both got sicker and the early morning wake up at 4:45 came much too early. Going to breakfast there were only 10 other people there out of 300 riders which probably signaled we weren’t the only ones struggling with the early mornings. With a 5 minute GC lead, we had some time to play with but the 52km final stage was suited for the punchier Israeli XC riders. The Israelis got away from us on one of the early climbs but Soren would set the pace on the fire road sections and me on the single track, which kept the gap from growing too big. A few spectators on course would tell us the gap was 3-4 minutes, we think just to stress us out when in reality it was just between 1-2 minutes. The riding this day was amazing as it was on a new purpose-built single track through Tinma Park. They sure have put a lot of work into the riding in the desert and it was a real treat to race on. Rolling into the finish in third, just over two minutes down on the leaders, meant we had successfully held onto our Pink leader jerseys and taken the title at this UCI S2 ranked stage race! What a great way this was to kick off the year! It certainly wasn’t an easy victory, but that makes it that much sweeter.
The action didn’t stop the days after the race as time was spent in the city of Tel Aviv, and of course riding. Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean Coastline and is the country’s economic and technological hub. It is also party central and has a 24 hour lifestyle. We were pretty tuckered out from the race so settled on some more relaxing activities. I tried a recovery ride on the coastal bike path but this turned into one of the sketchiest rides of the year as it was littered with out of control e-bikers and e-scooters. Old men with beer bellies would overtake me and glare down as if to ask why I was going so slowly. Because I’m actually peddling my bike while you guys have your e-bikes set up so you don’t even have to touch the pedals! I was thankful to make it back to the hotel intact. In the evening my friend Yoram picked me up to take me up to his farm in Northern Israel for a few days of riding in the Carmel mountains. It was interesting how different the environment was up there with lots of greenery and rolling hills.
To cap off the trip Yoram, teamed up with a local Kona dealer Erez Golan to take us on the famous “Sugar trail” from Jerusalem down to the lowest place on earth at the Dead
The days in Israel ended by getting combed over by the tight Israeli airport security. This was the toughest security I’ve ever gone through as they took everything apart and even took my bike pump as they were afraid it was a weapon. I escaped before they had time to probe me as I’m sure that was next. Now back in Nepal It’s time to rest up a bit before the next adventure up in the Himalaya’s as this trip to Israel was a tiring one. My mind is full of great memories, especially from the Samarathon Desert which reminded me a lot of the laid back atmosphere we have at the BC Bike race and Singletrack 6 in Canada. I’ll be crossing my fingers for a chance to return to the Holy Land again someday soon!.
Don’t forget you can follow Cory’s adventures on his blog here. corywallace.com