Biniam Girmay has thrown down the gauntlet ahead of his first Tour de France, sprinting to victory on stage two of the Tour de Suisse, ahead of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
The Intermarché-Circus-Wanty rider was mobbed by Eritrean fans at the finish line, having become the first rider from the African country to win a stage of the Tour de Suisse.
"It means a lot," Girmay said afterwards. "I knew there was no [Eritrean] to win in the Tour de Suisse, but the first time winning in front of my people, it's amazing, I'm just so happy."
As well as a historic victory it was also a real statement of intent from the 23-year-old ahead of next month's Tour. Both Démare and Van Aert have won multiple bunch finishes at the Tour de France, and it's clear that Girmay will be heading there with only one aim – a stage victory.
Today's Tour de Suisse stage two, set in the middle of the country, took the peloton on a 173.7km outing from Beromünster to Nottwil. It was one of only perhaps two bunch sprinting opportunities but nevertheless was a tough day out in the hills, with riders facing 1,890m of ascent over three cat-three climbs.
Indeed, the peloton looked rather lethargic as it approached the finale, the sprint trains reluctant to take up the baton.
In the finale reckoning, Van Aert was the first to take up the sprint, going early just beyond the 300m-to-go sign; Girmay followed almost straight away, coming from two bike lengths back to win comfortably as Van Aert, perhaps, rued his early start.
"When I crossed the line I was surprised. Two months ago with a hard crash," he said, referring to the nasty crash he had in the Tour of Flanders which took him out of the race.
He had surprised himself with today's win, he said: "I'm just going crazy!"
The leader's yellow jersey was retained by yesterday's time trial winner, home rider Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), who takes a five-second lead into tomorrow's mountains stage to Villars-sur-Ollon, where a cat-one summit finish awaits.
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