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Friday, September 19, 2014

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Israel-born cyclist to race for Canada at Maccabiah Games

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Ayal Rahat

Ayal Rahat has adopted an unusual training regimen as he gets ready to represent Canada at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which run from July 18 to 30.

In the morning, he gets out of bed, climbs onto his bike and pedals for at least one and a half hours.

That’s not the unusual part. What makes his workout atypical is that the peddling takes place in his living room, not the open road.

Rahat, who was born in Israel but who now lives in Toronto, will represent Canada in road race and time trials, two long distance events that will be held on the open road in the Galil/Golan area, not far from where he grew up.

To prepare, he’d normally search out a stretch of open road with light traffic, but living in Toronto, getting somewhere like that takes too much time. As an alternative, he’s set up a contraption in his living room onto which he places his bike. The back wheel spins in place, the resistance is adjustable, and he’s able to get his heart pumping – all from the comfort of his condo.

“I do very intense intervals,” he said, referring to the kind of speeds he has to reach to get his heart pumping.

He’s finding his new approach to training an acceptable, if somewhat limited, substitute for the real thing. In the winter off-season in Israel he’d cycle 25,000 kilometers, “just riding and training.”

The work clearly paid off. For three years from 2009-11, Rahat was Israel’s time trial champion. Last year, he finished third in the grueling 40 km race. His average speed on a flat course was 46 kilometres per hour. On hillier terrain, it dropped to 44 kilometres per hour.

That’s the kind of speed a recreational cyclist might generate sprinting all-out, downhill, with the wind.

With the good weather now upon us, Rahat, 29, is able to resume his normal training schedule – at least on the weekends. If you’re in the King Road and Dufferin Street area and you see a guy decked out in the sponsorship gear from the KindHuman Pro Shop, where he works, you’ll know it’s him.

Cycling outdoors, Rahat puts in as much as six hours at a stretch.

For Rahat, the trip to Israel will be something of a homecoming. Four years ago, he competed for Israel at the Maccabiah Games, winning a silver medal in the road race and a bronze in the time trials.

This time around, Rahat admits he’ll be facing something of a disadvantage, at least as far as the road race goes. In that event, teams work together. “You race as a team, you help each other,” he said. That can mean something as simple as giving a teammate water, to closing gaps, picking up the pace, or “bringing an attack.”

“Road races have a lot of tactics,” he explained.

This year, however, he won’t have the advantage of team support. He’ll be the only Canadian competitor in the road race, while Israel will field a six-cyclist team. The United States is expected to bring four to six riders.

Time trials are a different matter. In that event, cyclists are given staggered starting positions and race individually. The fastest times earn medals. “It’s every rider for himself,” Rahat said.

Though he was born in Israel, Rahat spent the first few years of his life on the road. His parents were shlichim – emissaries – for Tzofim, the Israel scout movement. For a time as a youngster, Rahat lived in Toronto as well as Yonkers.

The family returned to Israel and he grew up in Bnei Yehuda, in the southern Golan Heights.

The two cycling events are pretty much in his old backyard. “I know the roads,” he said, which may or may not be an advantage. His former Israeli teammates know them too. What they don’t yet know is that Rahat will be racing for Canada.

“I’m sure it will be interesting... It’s going to be a surprise for them,” he said.

As for the Maccabiah Games themselves, Rahat is relishing the chance to experience them from a different perspective. “Four years ago, from the Israeli side, it was fun. Now I’m coming with the Canadian team and there are more events.”

He’s looking forward to travelling and touring with the Canadian contingent, something Israelis don’t experience. For them, they compete and then go home.

Still, he has fond memories of the event. “The Maccabiah Games are very exciting – the whole idea of it, with Jews from all over the world,” he said.

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