The 2018 Giro d’Italia will start in Jerusalem, the first time that a Grand Tour has ever started outside of Europe. The tour will have a stage finish in Tel Aviv, Israel's de facto capital (the UN does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital).
The Giro's visit to Israel has long been expected but tour director Mauro Vegni confimed the Israeli "Grande Partenza" – or "Big Start" – at a press conference in Jerusalem earlier today. He said: "The territories crossed by the stages in Israel will show to the world tradition, culture and beautiful landscape. We will see spectacular stages, that will surprise both from a sporting perspective and from the landscape point of view."
The kick-off event is an individual time trial which will start and finish close to the golden limestone walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The third stage will see the riders leave from Be’er Sheva and ride through the Negev Desert to the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
The Giro has frequently started away from Italy – with Amsterdam, Herning, Belfast and Utrecht all recently hosting the tour – but the 2018 tour will be staged in one of the world's leading geo-political hot-spots. As the Giro’s visit will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, it's possible there will be many protests against the event – Israel's government has therefore guaranteed it will provide the biggest security operation for a sporting event in the country’s history.
Quite apart from protests from Palestinians there may be protests from Jewish groups, too – the Giro will begin on a Friday. Parts of Jerusalem shut down on Friday evenings for the start of "shabbos" or sabbath. Any signs of "work" on Friday evening and Saturday daytime can lead to protests from ultra-orthodox Jewish communities – this can include stone throwing, and worse.
And the winner's podium will have to be sensitively positioned – advertising posters featuring photographs of bikini-clad women are reguarly defaced by ultra-orthodox Jewish protestors so the controversail sight of "podium girls" in the run-up to a Friday evening won't go down well with extreme religious groups.
However, tour organisers will hope any protests – political or religious – will be kept to a minimum. And Israel's tourism ministry will also be keen to keep the lid on protests.
Yariv Levin, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, said: “At the Ministry of Tourism, we place great importance on encouraging tourism to Israel through sport. We have worked during the last year with the Giro to publicise Israel through the race on Eurosport. This year, we will increase this cooperation and I am sure we will see very positive results.
"Together, we will promote Israel as an attractive tourist destination. Images of Israel’s spectacular landscape will give further impetus to our campaigns across the world and I am sure that it will help bring further growth to tourism in Israel.”
It is rumoured that the 2018 Giro will finish in Rome, possibly even in the Vatican City. The full route of the Giro route will be announced in November. The race takes place 4th to 27th May 2018.