Jerusalem (CNN)One of cycling’s biggest races will begin outside of Europe for the first time, it has been announced.
The 2018 Giro d’Italia’s first three stages will take place in Israel, making the May race next year the biggest sporting event the country has hosted.
“The start from Jerusalem is a metaphorical bridge between our two lands, made up of history, culture and traditions,” said Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti, who was in Jerusalem to make the announcement.
The first day of the Corsa Rosa will be a 10-kilometer time trial in Jerusalem that starts and ends near the historic Old City.
The second day will be a 167km ride from Haifa in northern Israel to Tel Aviv, while the final day will be a 226km race from Beer Sheva through the Negev desert to the resort city of Eilat in the south of the country.
“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years. I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone,” said Israeli Sports Minster Miri Regev.
It’s the most Israel has spent on a sporting event, Regev said, but she wouldn’t reveal how much.
This will mark the 13th time the Giro d’Italia, one of cycling’s three Grand Tours (the other two are the Tour de France and Spain’s Vuelta a España), has started somewhere other than Italy — but none have started outside of Europe.
The announcement is a marketing coup for Israel, which will use the Giro d’Italia as a major tourism opportunity for the Holy Land.
‘Showcasting Israel to millions’
“The historic Big Start of the 101st edition of the Giro is about showcasing our country to hundreds of millions of TV viewers and live spectators,” said Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli real estate mogul and cycling enthusiast who is a major contributor to the event.
“With it we are sharing our beautiful scenery, our history, our culture, and most of all, our people, in this diverse, free, pluralistic and fiercely democratic society.”
Race organizers seemed to recognize the political sensitivity of holding an international sporting event in Jerusalem.
The route of the first day’s time trial starts and ends near the Old City, but does not cross into East Jerusalem, which the international community views as the capital of a future Palestinian state. In addition, none of the routes cross into the West Bank.
Cycling legend Alberto Contador, who won both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia twice, encouraged cycling fans to attend the race.
“I have already visited Israel and Jerusalem in 2012,” said Contador. “So I know how this will be an exceptional Giro and a great opportunity for the people.
“I encourage everyone to go on the streets to watch the race live and experience the great emotions that only the Giro can give. For me, it is an incredible race with special fans; in the three years I raced the Giro I rode every day with a smile on my face.”
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin won the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia.