Mid-season I was asked by my Norco Factory Teammate Andrew L’esperance (Lespy) if I wanted to do a stage race in the fall with him. It was a partnered race, Epic Israel, and my calendar was clear. Without hesitation I agreed. I’d never been to Israel, I like stage races, and I like UCI Points.
I did some prep for it, nothing much, a few 4 hour road rides and a mountain bike ride here or there. I was more or less going to try to grind it out and let the racing motivate me this late in the season.
Lespy went early to Israel to do a couple single day races and I rolled in just in time. For a Wednesday through Saturday race I arrived Monday morning. We toured Jerusalem with our guide from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and learned loads. I knew nothing going in, I still don’t know enough, and I still have so many questions (I am accepting suggestions for documentaries).
Jerusalem: a place where so much has happened since the inception of the human race. Now, I should be clear before I continue, I am not religious what-so-ever. However, I can appreciate a city such as Jerusalem for its abundant history, cohabitation and stature that it holds. It was incredible to stand and learn about the different conquerors throughout the years. Once conquered by any given opposition, entire monuments and their associated cultures were torn down and buried, only to be replaced by those of the conquerors. Layer by layer, this process created a vertical architectural record like the pages of a history book sitting atop a desk. I was surprised to find that in many areas, although you think you’re standing on the ground, in reality a cavern of an old church stood just beneath you. I’d walk past a fortress, a large stone building by the edges of the old city, and then come to notice that the stones were slightly different as your eyes scan vertically up the building. One layer was built by civilization A with the next picked up by civilization B. Spatially, this place was a maze with tight passages that would drop you down through a church and then out onto a street, or send you walking through a market in a tight, crowded corridor only to climb a set of stairs and walk upon the bustling roof of that market. It was truly aw-inspiring.
Well, when you’re out and touring like we were you get hungry.
Hummus, falafel, pitas – what more do you need?
The food was phenomenal. I was in heaven. Huge bowls of hummus, fresh, all with their own secret recipe. Get roasted pine nuts added, or more chickpeas, or shawarma? Yes! You could get the lovely roasted meat added to your hummus bowl. Incredible. I ate so much. But don’t even get me started on the falafel. That was unreal. I have never had falafel like that. Light, airy, spiced well – it was encased in an incredible crunch. I was able to dial back a dozen of those tasty little balls in a sitting.
Ok, we have covered the food, a tiny bit about how incredible Jerusalem is and now we are moving north. Haifa: built on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean and home to the Bahá’í Gardens. The hill is a few hundred meters above sea level and the gardens stretch almost the whole length. Beautifully and meticulously manicured into perfection, it is breathtaking.
Overlooking Haifa you can see loads of industry and refineries in the distance up North. Further, they are building a massive port. According to our guide, they are building a port and rail lines that will connect this area of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, thus bypassing the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Apparently, this is more efficient. Strange details to include in a blog? Maybe, but details such as these amaze me.
Now to Acre, this is where the race was hosted, just slightly north, around the bay, from Haifa. The old city of Acre has the massive Crusaders Fort and it was fitting that this 7th edition of Epic Israel was the Crusaders Edition. The fort has massive, massive walls and a dry moat surrounding the inhabitants. Walls 20-30 feet thick built with massive stones. The fort had, like everything in Israel, exchanged hands multiple times. The Turks, British etc. but not Napoléon! He put the whole city under siege, but his cannons were too small for the thick walls. He failed at launching multiple offences and eventually had to withdraw from the area as alley reinforcements were showing up. I got to stand where the great conqueror was denied – I found that very interesting.
Up next we dive into the racing, and that Crusaders Fort – we aren’t done with you yet.