Gran Fondo Dead Sea

Racing in a country with bad reputation…

The Israeli cyclists are proud on their Scorpion’s Climb. They call it the Alpe d’Huez of Israel. The 5-kilometer long climb with an average percentage of 11%, in the middle of the Negev desert, is the main difficulty in the Gran Fondo Dead Sea. A perfectly well-organized Gran Fondo near the city of Arad without any feelings of unsafety.

The Scorpion’s Climb has a long history. The Romans designed the twisty road uphill in the late first century. Nowadays it really demands the most extreme powers of any cyclist. It’s the small cobbled stone section which announces the start of the difficult pass halfway into the Gran Fondo Dead Sea. While hitting the steepest percentages I feel my front wheel losing contact with the earth. The small stone I hit falls hundreds of meters down the summit.

I set my alarm at a quarter to six. The Gran Fondo Dead Sea, starting in a touristic village next to the salty pool of water, departs at a quarter past seven. Yawning I find a seat in the hotel, trying to consume some breakfast. I can choose between a lot of variety of foods, all placed in one long table of fifty meters in length. “The breakfast is the most important meal in Israel”, the organization tells me.

Israel has a bad image in the rest of the world. Quite often international media report about tensions between the Palestine and the Israeli people. It’s an understatement to say that these reports do not encourage people to come to the country with its borders with, for example, Syria. It is one of the reasons why the Israeli government is enthusiastic about journalists reporting about events like the Gran Fondo Dead Sea.

The cyclosportive is, next to the race for recreational cyclists, also the second stage of the Tour of Arad, a three-day stage race in the same region. I lost 91 seconds in the second stage from Masada to Arad (22km, 800 height meters). To have a small chance of a victory today, I need to have a gap of at least two minutes at the bottom of the Scorpion’s Climb.

So I have to plan to attack early in the race. It works. And around ten guys join me. I reach the main difficulty of the day with the wished advantage on the peloton. The fifteen extremely steep turns of the climb feel awful, definitely when I see the leader in the general classification getting nearer with every turn.

I make it to the top with 10 seconds of advantage left. I keep pushing on the pedals and regain some lead on my own. Guy Niv of the Israel Cycling Academy-team, joins me an hour later and together we make it to the final uphill section. With three kilometers to go Niv and I get caught by the first group. The last kilometers are a mental torment. I finish as ninth in the stage and in the general classification.

There hasn’t been a single dangerous moment during the time I spent in Israel. Next to the city of Arad and the Dead Sea, I visit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Yes, in Jerusalem there are a lot of soldiers but in Tel Aviv I felt like I was walking in a Spanish ‘Costa’-city. Of course I cannot judge about the Gaza Strip or the Golan Heights, but about the other parts of Israel, I can tell that it is a safe country to ride some bikes.

Useful links:

Instagram of the Gran Fondo

Vlog of the Gran Fondo

Raw Footage of the Scorpion’s climb

My Strava record

Written by Sjors Beukeboom, who is racing for De Volharding Team in Netherlands. Sjors is current Dutch National Champion for students and also won the Media World Cup in 2017. Stage winner of Tour de Madagascar says he loves descending even more than climbing.