Commentary: A training ride with Israel Start-Up Nation passes sand, sights, and history

Contributor Rebecca Reza followed Israel Start-Up Nation on a training ride through the Negev Desert. The ride took in sights, sand, and plenty of history.

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Contributor Rebecca Reza is attending the Israel Start-Up Nation team training camp. 

TEL AVIV, Israel (VN) — Israel’s ancient Negev Desert could be mistaken for Southern California on this sunny afternoon. As riders on the Israel Start-Up Nation pedal a six-hour training ride through the desert, I watch the orange groves pass by out the window of a car behind the group. There is a cool breeze in the air.

A team official explains the history and political significance of an overlook. Photo: Rebecca Reza

And then, we make a pit stop, and a team representative says the area for our stop has been the site of rocket attacks and violence. “Don’t be afraid,” says Cen Tal, CEO of the Israel Continental team.

I’m following these riders like I would do during any other team training camp, but the impact of where we are hits me at every turn. We pass historical sites that date back thousands of years, and communities of both Israelis and Palestinians that live under the threat of regular violence.

The ride takes us past the border with the Gaza Strip and Palestinian settlements. Photo: Rebecca Reza

We pass the largest military base in Israel where tank and maneuver training takes place, and the last of the trees disappear. We come upon the villages of the Bedouins, proving the landscape is not completely devoid of habitants. Goat herders are off in the distance, and we pass a strange light-beaming tower that turns out to be a solar energy tower.

Riders stop in front of an orange grove. Photo: Rebecca Reza

The wind picks up, and we drive past a rider who has been dropped from the group. We’re surprised to see the solemn face of German sprinter Andre Greipel. A large dust cloud looms up ahead, and Irish rider Dan Martin tells the riders to turn left, hoping to escape the brutal headwind.

A surprise dust storm engulfs the group as they head back toward the team hotel. Photo: Rebecca Reza

The storm speeds towards the riders, and high winds force a split in the group. Before long our entire convoy is engulfed in a massive dust storm, and the sun disappears altogether. This section of desert, I am told, is the driest spot in the region, and little or no rain falls here each year.

The storm is so thick that it blots out the sun. Photo: Rebecca Reza

The desert’s dry streak is about to be broken. A few miles down the road and the rain begins to fall and the temperature plummets. The riders stop to put on rain jackets and winter clothing. I look out the window of the car and see that their faces are covered in dust and rain. They look as though they have just finished Paris-Roubaix.

Riders are coated in dust and sand by the time the storm passes. Photo: Rebecca Reza

On our ride back to the hotel we pass camel crossings, and endure more wind and rain, before we again see sunshine. We stop on the edge of the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest erosion crater, which overlooks sites where some of the most ancient civilization prospered. Then, we call it a day. The riders return to the hotel where they hop into a well-deserved hot shower.

The team makes its way back after the sandstorm. Photo: Rebecca Reza

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