More than 100 cyclists from around the world competed in the inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic on Sunday, but it was a member of Israel’s first-ever professional cycling team who was the first to cross the finish line in downtown Baltimore.
Sep Vanmarcke of Team Israel-Premier Tech overtook Neilson Powless, the top American finisher in this year’s Tour de France, in the last 750-meter stretch. Vanmarcke then beat out Canadian competitor Nickolas Zukowsky for the win.
Teammate Nadav Raisberg described the outpouring of love he experienced from people who came to support the Israeli team at the Sept. 4 event.
“They stopped me again and again, asking to pose for pictures or just throwing a few Hebrew words at me to show that we’re family,” said Raisberg. “And then all the Israeli flags — you can’t miss them during the race. It was just a heart-warming experience that I will never forget.”
A member of the Israeli team spotted Eric Rubin standing along the course holding an Israeli flag and gave him a thumbs up. “That made me really proud,” said Rubin, a board member of Baltimore Zionist District (BZD).
DC resident and team fan Jason Perlman drove to Baltimore to meet the riders and experience the race in person. “I can tell you, we gained a lot of new North American fans by the end of the day,” he exclaimed.
110 cyclists from 16 teams participated in the competition, and Team Israel-Premier Tech had five racers in the top 25. Team member Jenthe Biermans came in 7th place and won a race jersey for best sprint.
The course for the race stretched a hilly 121.7 miles from Sparks, Md. to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor District. After 75 miles, the riders raced south on Falls Road, the only straight section of the course, into the heart of central Baltimore for a four-lap circuit finale. In a complete contrast to the roads of Baltimore County, the 7.5-mile city circuit featured 19 turns and a deceivingly tough elevation gain of 234-feet per lap. The final stretch featured a descent down St. Paul Street onto East Pratt for a flat, fast finish.
“It was hot today out there and it was really demanding,” said Vanmarcke, who is Belgian. “I think together with my teammates we played good tactics and I’m super proud to win here in America.”
In less than eight years since its founding, Team Israel – Premier Tech has become an elite world-class teams. “We are on the map big time,” said team owner and philanthropist Sylvan Adams. Beyond racing, the team has also become known for promoting the message of tikkun olam.
In addition to his leadership roles with BZD and other pro-Israel organizations, Rubin is a champion of Team Israel-Premier Tech for their positive representation of Israel on the racing course and through their charitable work.
“Israel is a tiny country with a big heart, but it’s tough to win on the highest level,” he said. “I have never been at an international event before when Israel placed in the top 3, never mind the top spot. It was very emotional for me to be so close while Sep raised the trophy on behalf of the Israel – Premier Tech team. I did the first thing that came to my mind — I sang Hatikvah to myself.”
“When I finally got to meet Sep after the ceremony, I congratulated him and thanked him. I let him know how much his victory meant to so many of us. I can’t wait to see the team next year as they defend their title. Am Yisrael Chai.”