"It is a great privilege to host such an important sporting event and we invite all Giro enthusiasts to come to Israel," the country's sport minister Miri Regev said when the plan was first unveiled in September.

'SPECTACULAR'

His tourism colleague Yariv Levin was no less pleased, boasting that starting the race for the pink jersey in Israel would "show its spectacular landscapes to millions of spectators in nearly 200 countries".

That was before the "west Jerusalem" saga, however. Organisers had been keeping in line with most international opinion, which does not recognise Israel's claim to the entire city — including the occupied east — as its capital.

But an enraged Israel threatened to pull the plug unless organisers RCS Sport revised the stage start as Jerusalem, which they duly did.

According to the Jerusalem Post, RCS Sport is to get four million euros ($4.7 million) from Israel for hosting rights.

Putting out one diplomatic fire, however, lit another. The Palestinians promptly accused the Giro of being "an accomplice to the Israeli military occupation and its significant violations of international law".
Vegni pleaded with the Palestinians to leave politics out of it, admitting he feared the race could attract protesters.

Italy insists next year's Giro will go down in history on its own merit, as a race from Jerusalem to Rome starring Chris Froome, the three-time British Tour de France champion who hopes to win the first Tour-Giro double in two decades.

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