Biniam Girmay eyes history as a Giro stage win awaits

0

In Eschborn-Frankfurt, there are additional security personnel on the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux bus.

A few years ago, that would have seemed weird. The team, to put it bluntly, was on a hiding for nothing. After Enrico Gasparotto’s victory in the 2016 Amstel Gold Race, a WorldTour-level win eluded the team and other notable victories were rare. It wasn’t until 2020, after the team was granted a WT license, that Taco van der Hoorn and Rein Taaramäe seized the opportunity and secured stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Spain.

But even then, security is keeping the crowd at bay on the team bus? Well, that’s what Biniam Girmay does.

“BINIAM. BINIAM”, chants the crowd climbing on top of each other to get closer to their hero, clutching red, blue and green flags. Such is the fervor, the energy, that the scene looks more like a World Cup At bike races, until you get to the Belgian cobbles or the Grand Tour climbs, crowds of cyclists are polite places, distant relatives of the boisterous populace that follows other sports from team.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had fans around me,” Girmay said a few days later during his Giro d’Italia pre-race press conference, quite nonchalantly. “There were a lot of people at the Worlds. Even before, the [Eritrean] the fans are a bit crazy about cycling and they support professional cyclists. But for me, in Frankfurt, I didn’t expect a crowd like that, it made me super happy.

When Girmay returned home from a classics campaign where he announced himself to the wider cycling world, becoming the first African rider to win a Belgian classic, thousands of fans came out and formed a convoy. Some on a flotilla, some on bicycles, others in cars honking and draping national flags from their windows. If this is just the beginning, imagine what is yet to come, both from Girmay and from the African runners who will no doubt follow in his footsteps.

Girmay seems too aware of the mission that awaits him. As he enjoyed his time in Eritrea, relaxing with his young family, he also used his home training routes to prepare for his next goal, the Giro d’Italia.

He is clear on what he expects from his first Grand Tour. A stage win. And it could happen from the first step. The half-uphill, half-sprint finish seems to suit the 22-year-old who is versatile enough to win on more complex terrain.

Once stage victory is ruled out, and there will be plenty of opportunities for that, the points jersey is also a minor ambition.

“I think it’s all our dreams to win in a Grand Tour,” Girmay said of what victory would mean for him and for Eritrea over the next three weeks. “It’s one of the most important races for us. We’ve never won in a Grand Tour, a black rider; for us it will be the greatest moment ever.

It is clear that for Girmay it is not just the weight of a nation that rests on his narrow shoulders, but history. While change has been slow and gradual in a cycling culture rooted in tradition and, on the European stage, whiteness, Girmay stepped in and opened the doors.

When asked who his inspirations grow from, he said riders from his own region, before naming a rider for German continental outfit BikeAid, a team that collaborates with Kenyan talent.

Girmay seems to be taking her newfound fame in her stride. Whatever pressure is on him to perform doesn’t seem to bother him too much.

“He’s not nervous, not at all,” says his roommate for this Giro, the Belgian Loïc Vliegen. “He’s one of the guys who can really handle the pressure and really thrive. I can tell you he has no pressure on himself.

The next three weeks are uncharted territory for Girmay, having never raced a Grand Tour before, but he knows for sure what the future holds in terms of what he hopes to achieve. “No more Classics, a Monument… but a Grand Tour is still in my dream. Tomorrow I will try to fulfill my dream of winning a Grand Tour stage.”

Share.

Comments are closed.