Whether around his home in Tel Aviv, at his team’s training camp in Spain or in Miami where he will spend the holidays with his family, Sylvan Adams rides proudly in his rainbow jersey of world masters champion , stamped with the name of its formation: “Israel-Premier Tech”.
“Personally, I have no worries about riding in public with the jersey,” summarized the businessman and philanthropist in a telephone interview with La Presse on Wednesday.
As a safety measure, Israel-Premier Tech (IPT) nevertheless allowed its runners to wear a partially unmarked uniform to train when they are not supervised by the team.
“It’s their choice to [ride] with the neutral jersey or the usual jersey,” said Sylvan Adams, a Quebecer established since 2015 in Israel, the original homeland of his late father, Marcel Adams.
This particular situation arises from the war waged by Israel against Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, after the surprise attack of October 7 which left 1,400 Israeli victims, the majority civilians. Hamas also kidnapped 240 people, more than 100 of whom are believed to remain detained.
Sylvan Adams is “revolted” at having to worry about the well-being of his team members because of what is written on their jerseys or company vehicles.
“Is it normal that a cycling team has to worry about the threat of violence just because we wear a jersey with the name Israel? Is it acceptable in our sport, in our society, for Jews to worry about their personal safety? »
The owner of IPT nevertheless decided to produce neutral uniforms, making the safety of its riders and employees a top priority.
“I really don’t like the fact that we have to think about having a training jersey that doesn’t have the name Israel on it. I don’t like it, because it’s really [giving in] to an unacceptable threat! But the safety of runners who train alone like this, without vehicles and all the rest of the entourage that accompanies them to races, takes precedence over all other considerations. »
This possibility of training in neutral clothing was first reported at the end of November by the Dutch specialist website WielerFlits, according to which runners and staff members feared being the object of violent acts . Some IPT cyclists reportedly passed near pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
In an interview with La Presse, Sylvan Adams evaded questions about the expression of discomfort or insecurity on the part of runners, reiterating that IPT management has been “proactive” on the subject.
At the team’s first camp for the new season, which ended on Sunday, December 17 in Girona, the Israel-Hamas war was discussed with the 30 cyclists from 13 nationalities, including 4 Israelis and 5 Canadians, among including Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin.
“It sparked discussions internally,” said Mr. Adams, owner of IPT. We talked about the situation in Israel, what happened on October 7, what Israel has done since. We explained what was happening with the war, its objectives, the situation of the hostages, the families and the displacement of 250,000 people in the country, which is unimaginable. »
A resident of Kibbutz Be’eri, about ten kilometers from the Gaza Strip, came to testify about the horrors he experienced when his small community was stormed by Hamas fighters.
“He told us how he and his family survived on October 7 when 25 percent [of the residents] of his kibbutz were stunned, tortured, burned and massacred in unimaginable ways,” Sylvan Adams said.
The IPT co-founder believes that everyone was reassured by the information sessions: “We were proactive in encouraging discussions. Honestly, the issue of threats was not discussed as such. I didn’t feel any fear from the riders and the people who work for the team. I didn’t feel anything other than the desire to attack the season with an improved team. I am very encouraged by our new acquisitions and I hope we will have a great team. »
On the eve of starting his third campaign for Israel-Premier Tech, Hugo Houle does not feel particularly threatened while riding in his 2023 jersey, whether around his home, in the Monaco region, or on the roads of Quebec, where he faces the cold these days. As a precaution, the 33-year-old will still wear a neutral uniform in training when he receives it next month.
“For my part, I think it is safe on the road, I have never had a problem,” explained the stage winner at the Tour de France in 2022, in a written message. “However, we must protect ourselves since it only takes one person to attack us. We are already vulnerable on the roads, it is better to play safe. »
His teammate Guillaume Boivin has not really thought about the jersey he will wear in the coming weeks in Australia, where he will launch his season in January.
“Honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much: I’ll take the first jersey from the drawer and that’ll be it,” said the 34-year-old veteran contacted on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane.
At the time of the video call, Boivin was donning IPT’s special jersey for the latest Tour de France, where the word “Israel” is prominently displayed. Digging through his bag, he discovered the brand new neutral jersey, which he unwrapped to show off to the camera. It is almost identical to the new 2024 uniform unveiled last week, except the words “Israel” and “Premier Tech,” the other major sponsor, are no longer on it. The logos – a stylized Star of David and the P of Premier Tech, a multinational from Rivière-du-Loup – remained.
If he feels safe in Australia and in the mountains of Andorra, where he lives, Guillaume Boivin is grateful for the care of his training in protecting runners.
“When you train, you never know who you might run into,” said the man who is one of the oldest members of the Israeli team, which he has represented since 2016. “It’s always been a bit reality, but it has been amplified since the war in Gaza. […] It is always more for the exception than for the general population. It also depends on the region where you live. I understand that it may be more disturbing for some. It’s good that the team took into consideration the fears that a few might have. »
Generally speaking, Sylvan Adams is not particularly concerned about the possibility of one of his riders being the victim of an untoward event.
“Those who make threats of violence are not people who follow our sport,” said the 65-year-old man. But if they see the name “Israel”, it is like a provocation for them because they have hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people at the same time. »
The owner of IPT indicated that “defensive measures to ensure the safety of [the] personnel” of the Israeli-Canadian team will be put in place during the next season, as has been the case in recent years.
“These violent people have been more visible since October 7, but they were there before. I am confident [in the fact that] we have the situation under control and that the safety measures we are undertaking will be sufficient to allow us to ride like a cycling team on our public roads, which should be safe for everyone. »
Plans for a “peace run” in Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at the end of October could be postponed. “The war situation has slowed down discussions in this regard a little,” admitted Sylvan Adams. We’ll see how things go. »
Israel-Premier Tech, Guillaume Boivin and Canadian Derek Gee will begin the new season from January 16 to 21 at the Tour Down Under in Australia. Riders will all wear the official team jersey, with their full name written on the chest.