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Giro Stage 2: History On Wheels

Coastal Route spans the ancient and the ultramodern

Corbis via Getty Images

Stage 2: Haifa — Tel Aviv, 167km

This is the unapologetic tourism stage, which I’m sure will set some heads alight on Twitter but has become a fundamental way for grand tours to pay the bills nowadays. With the other stages further inland, this is Israel’s chance to show off its coastal jewels, which come in many different forms.

What’s It About?

A straightforward, stress-free (we hope) day down the Mediterranean coast of the country, connecting its third largest city to its second-largest. Most of the stage is spent on a modern highway that’s as flat as West Flanders, which would insure a piano stage if not for some winds that might put the peloton on slightly higher alert. There’s a KOM point, and therefore a jersey, to be had, and if the Israel Cycling Academy doesn’t have a rider in the early break, I will literally eat my hat. Literally. Anyway, barring some serious wind-fueled chaos, it’s a day for the sprinters in the end.

Stage Details


Giro Stage 2 map


Giro Stage 2 profile

I know I’ve professed my bias before, but even with no connection to the Jewish world I would find my history geekiness overwhelmed by this stage. Here’s what gets taken in along the way:

Haifa: Oh, just a settlement inhabited most of the time since the 14th century BCE. Now it’s a modern city and historically it was clearly #2, the Newark to this area’s New York (gimme a sec). Now it’s home to yet another religion, the Baha’i, which decided to get in on the Levantine party. Behind the town is Mount Carmel, the one mentioned in the Bible a bunch of times.

Akko (Acre, Aka): The New York to Haifa’s Newark. Second in importance to Jerusalem, if you’re keeping historical score at home, and one of the longest continually inhabited places in the region (and thus on Earth). Akko has been a port city of strategic importance since the Hellenistic era (when it was known as Ptolemais). Each of the 1,357 significant historical eras in the region had Akko play a central role, and perhaps none more than the Crusades, during which King Baldwin of Jerusalem, a knight from Verdun, France, took the Pope’s orders to reclaim Jerusalem in another direction, establishing his own kingdom at Edessa (around northern Syria) and then in Jerusalem. He overthrew the Seljuk fort in Akko and his years of rule left behind the Templar Tunnels underneath the modern city. Despite what you might think about the country, the city is fairly well (and peacefully) split between Arab and Jewish residents, with the Old City predominantly Arab.

Caesaria: A small town now, Caesaria had its day during the Roman Occupation (what gave that away?) when it functioned as an independent city and home to Roman administration of Judea. Built by King Herod, it hung in there pretty well until the Crusaders got hold of it but couldn’t keep out invading Baybars. The city lay in ruins until a bunch of Bosnian immigrants reinhabited the town, and it’s grown back up since. The Roman ruins are a major tourist/UNESCO site.

Netanya: Israel’s 7th largest city, this is a planned settlement that came into existence during the 20th century Zionist movement. It’s an easy drive or maybe train from Tel Aviv, and if it isn’t nicknamed Silicon Wadi, it should be. There’s a veritable forest of modern multinational companies located there. They named the city after Nathan Straus, one of the founders of Macy’s department stores, who gave two-thirds of his fortune away to help both Jews and Palestinians in the emerging new state.

Tel Aviv: Israel’s second-largest city,* whose history also goes back to just the last century, unless you want to include Jaffa, which is coming up on its 10,000th birthday not too long from now. In ancient times it has the usual litany of occupiers, but more recently it was an Arab city which attracted a lot of immigrants from the Zionist movement to reestablish a Jewish homeland. There were a lot of violent skirmishes along the way — the Arab-vs-Jew troubles in this land pre-date the State of Israel’s establishment in 1948 — and eventually the Jewish immigrants set up next door, establishing Tel Aviv which has grown into a city of half a million people.

[* I’ve probably called it the largest city a few times before, but actually Jerusalem is bigger.]

Downtown Tel Aviv
Corbis via Getty Images

Did You Know?

Apart from all this stuff about Canaanites and old rocks, Tel Aviv is actually on the list of cities of interest when it comes to modern architecture? This would be the UNESCO-listed White City, a collection of 4,000 buildings built in the Bauhaus style in and around downtown Tel Aviv.

Backing up, the Bauhaus school was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany, in 1919, consisting of architects and students looking to bring cultural modernism into building construction in the wake of WWI. The style strips away ornamental features to emphasize the functionality of the design over anything else. The style spread to Dessau and Berlin, but the rise of the Nazis led to two developments: the escape from Germany to Israel of many Bauhaus designers, and the subsequent WWII which saw so much of Germany and its city structures destroyed.

Now you can find more examples of Bauhaus style in Tel Aviv than anywhere else, even in Germany. Modernism is preserved in... ultra-ancient Israel. The world is a strange, strange place. A lot of the finest examples are getting up there in age but much has been well preserved. There’s even a small museum where you can find a guide to the top examples of the style.

I went searching for Bauhaus style and am pretty sure this is one.

Whom Does it Favor?

The sprinters will almost surely have their day. Shawn previewed the fastmen this week, and you can find the details there. The main point is that it’s all there for Elia Viviani, unless a few lesser countrymen or even a surprising up-and-comer can get in his way.

AmyBC’s Wine Pairing

Galil Viognier from Copake Wine Works

From the producer: In the Upper Galilee, near Kibbutz Yiron, we discovered the beauty of a free-flowing connection with nature. Experiencing this connection led to the establishment of a winery whose approach and actions are free and creative. We work with nature, generating sustainable relationships with the earth and the vineyards growing from within it. It’s important for us to maintain that which exists. To serve life in this environment. To give back.

I say: Stone fruit, flowers and honey. This is an easy-drinking springtime wine.

Pick to Win

Sigh... Viviani. He’s ready for this. And with Froome spooked from his opening stage, it’s Viv’s chance to wrest control of the Sky machine from Froome’s bony fingers. Yes, my brain is a year out of date (at least, at any given moment) and he’s for Quick Step now, which means he will clearly win all the sprints.