Ayesha McGowan: 'Girmay crossed the finish line solo, but we all won today’

'Seeing a Black man on the top step at the Giro d'Italia is no small thing when it comes to representation in cycling,' the American says

Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) today made history by becoming the first Black African rider to win a Grand Tour stage.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) today made history by becoming the first Black African rider to win a Grand Tour stage.

The 22-year-old out-sprinted Dutch superstar, Mathieu van der Poel, to win the 10th stage of the Giro d’Italia. Praising Girmay for his superb finish, the Dutchman  gave Girmay a thumbs up as he came across the line in second. 

Some 1200-kilometres away, American pro rider and POC advocate, Ayesha McGowan, burst out in an “OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG” in her Girona home. 

In 2021, McGowan herself made history by becoming the first African American woman to get signed to a professional road cycling team. 

“With the way Biniam has been riding, this was only a matter of time. I'm honored to have seen this in my lifetime,” the Liv Racing–Xstra rider told Cycling Weekly.

“Seeing a Black man on the top step at the Giro d'Italia is no small thing when it comes to representation in cycling. A lot of folks have laid the path towards making this a reality and Biniam Girmay has made them extremely proud. He crossed the finish line solo, but we all won today.”

On the express train to world-wide stardom, Girmay has been collecting one historic cycling milestone after another. 

In September of last year, the youngster became the first Black African rider to achieve a podium finish in the history of the UCI Road World Championships. He did so by earning the silver medal in the U-23 road race. He followed that up by becoming the first African winner of a Spring Classic when he bested Christophe Laporte, Jasper Stuyven and Dries Van Geste to win Gent-Wevelgem WorldTour this past March. 

And this is still only his first full World Tour season, having transferred from the French UCI Pro Team Delko ( (now defunct) ) to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux in August of last year. 

“He’s an inspiration,” McGowan commented. “And to me, the most exciting thing is seeing him get the respect from his peers that he deserves.”  

Which was easy to see on screen. Van der Poel was the first to congratulate the Eritrean, even before he’d gotten off his bike. That was followed by maglia rosa winner Juan Pedro López who wrapped the 22-year-old in a hug.

McGowan made history by becoming the first African American woman to get signed to a professional road cycling team in 2021.

(Image credit: Liv Racing)

Is Cycling Progressing? 

“I feel like it’s happening at a snail’s pace but it’s happening,” McGowan said.

“Especially in Eritrea, there has been a lot of effort put into developing talent and creating opportunities and getting folks out there. He’s not the first person to come out of that country with talent, he’s just the first person to be able to really get to the very top and cross the finish line in this way. While people can look at this as just him being really talented and working really hard, which is absolutely true, I do think it would be a disservice to ignore all the effort that has gone into building that pathway to get him to a place where he could succeed in the first place.”

This development is happening in the US as well, McGowan acknowledged. The racially diverse L39ion of Los Angeles and Miami Blazers teams are changing what cycling looks like.

McGowan has been struggling with health issues all season, forcing her to abandon the majority of the races she started. As such, she said that the chance is slim that she’ll be the first Black American to copy Girmay’s feat in the women’s Giro later this year.

“The chances of it happening for me are quite slim if I’m being honest with myself. But I think there’s a lot of stuff happening in the background right now and talent that’s been developed with a lot of potential for the near future,” she said. “So we might not be that far off. I think it’s very possible in the next few years to see [more Black American in the WorldTour].”

In all the celebrations and history making that Girmay is doing this season, McGowan cautioned that it’s important to remember that however talented, Girmay is still just one man. 

“I hope people will understand that this is exciting, this is fun but it shouldn’t have to become a situation where now that he’s done it, he’s got to keep doing it. I think he will because he’s talented but there’s been a lot of talk about how he’s got the weight of the whole community, the whole country on his shoulders, which seems really unfair,” she said.

“He’s really good, he’s having a good time, he’s going for it and I think everybody can see that this is not a fluke.I think he’s going to have a really substantial career, and it’s going to be really fun to watch.”

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