From the brink of relegation to Grand Tour stage winners: how this Tour de France has been a redemption ride for Israel-Premier Tech
After a lacklustre start to the season, the experienced line-up the team has brought to the Tour have shown a refreshing eagerness to perform and have been rewarded with a wealth of UCI points
There was a period of this season when you could have been forgiven for forgetting that the team of Israel-Premier Tech even existed in the men’s WorldTour peloton. In the earlier part of the year, as most riders kicked things off with the harsh and hectic Classics, Israel-Premier Tech’s leader for the Belgian block, Sep Vanmarcke, was unable to start in the Opening Weekend due to a knee injury sustained in the off season.
Things went from bad to worse for the squad when they were forced to pull out of the Tour of Flanders due to illness ravaging the team. The stage races were, largely, as much of a bleak picture as the one-day races. While they managed to field enough riders to start, only one rider finished Paris-Nice for the team. A win for Patrick Bevin in a shortened edition of the Tour of Turkey went a little way to heal the team’s wounds, but only a 2.Pro registered race, it didn’t do enough to change the team’s fight to stay out of the danger zone of being relegated from the WorldTour next year.
As more riders returned to racing healthy, the team’s fortune began to change in the run up to the Tour de France as they secured victories in lower ranked races such as La Route d'Occitanie and the Mercan'Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes. Despite this upward trend towards more success, few would have expected the Israeli squad to be one of the most visible non-GC teams at the Tour de France this year, animating stages and being rewarded with wins and podium positions accordingly in one of the biggest races of the year.
Chris Froome before stage 12 of the Tour de France (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
“It wasn’t the easiest start to the year but we came here with clear goals, well-prepared, everything set out. To be able to convert that is something else,” explained sports director Zak Dempster when interviewed by Eurosport/GCN. “We want more, we’re in the right direction and it’s a long term project,” he continued.
It’s true that Israel-Premier Tech is a team that has never been afraid to invest for the long haul. They have stuck by Chris Froome as he has worked his way back from the life-threatening injuries he sustained in a crash in 2019, their support never wavering as many doubted if the British rider would return to his previous, Tour de France winning form. When Froome finished third on stage 12 ending atop Alpe d’Huez this year, it was the beginning of his repayment to Israel-Premier Tech for their long-standing belief in him.
But Froome isn’t the only rider to have impressed in the team’s colours in this Tour de France. Simon Clarke’s victory on the cobbles of Northern France as the peloton tackled a Roubaix-style stage five was another performance that few expected. Getting himself in a gutsy, audacious breakaway and winning from what looked like the longest, most painful and gruelling sprint, Clarke earned the team another 1,000 UCI points to boost them in the WorldTour rankings.
Simon Clarke on stage five of the Tour de France (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Most recently, on stage 16 of the Tour de France, a victory for Hugo Houle ultimately cemented the fact that this team is, well and truly, back in business. It wasn’t just the Canadian rider winning solo from 27 kilometres out that did the trick, but also the way they used Mike Woods to play off the fact they had two riders in the main break of the day. With Houle ahead, Woods was able to sit in the group behind. The stage winner admitted afterwards that the original plan was for puncheur Woods to go for the victory himself on the final steep climb, but, in the end, Houle was strong enough to reach the line alone. He celebrated with his finger pointing at the sky, dedicating the victory to his brother who passed away ten years ago, explaining he was fuelled by the motivation this gave him to dig deep and hold on to the finish.
Houle took his victory – the biggest of his career – at the age of 31. In fact, the ages of the riders who have been the most successful and noticeable for the team in this year’s Tour de France (Clarke, Froome, Woods and Houle) span between 31 and 37. Over half of Israel-Premier Tech’s 31-rider roster are over the age of 30. As the cycling world is going crazy for the wunderkinds who burst onto the scene and win Grand Tours before they even reach 25, this is a team that is showing how experience and craft learnt from years in the peloton can still win you races today.
It’s common knowledge that the team has come under scrutiny in the past for its signings, for creating a squad with many riders who gained results before the likes of Tom Pidcock, Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar burst onto the road cycling scene, but perhaps it’s time to stop pushing the narrative that young riders are taking over. The performances of Israel Premier-Tech in this Tour de France are proof that the chance of winning only slips away when riders themselves stop believing it’s possible, and this is a team which is growing in confidence by the day. We will only know by the end of the season if these performances in the Tour de France have been enough to keep Israel Premier-Tech in the WorldTour, but they will have gone a long way in strengthening their chances.
Cover image: Getty