'Unbelievable, amazing': Biniam Girmay stunned by historic Gent-Wevelgem win

The Eritrean became the first rider from Africa to win the Belgian Classic, at just 21 years old

Biniam Girmay at the 2022 Gent-Wevelgem
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Biniam Girmay was left stunned after taking an unexpected victory at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, becoming the first Eritrean and African to win the Belgian Classic.

Just 21 years old, Girmay made his cobbled Classics debut on Friday for his Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux team at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, finishing impressively with a fifth place, but belied his inexperience as he made it into a four-man group and beat Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies), and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) with a confident, long-range sprint in Wevelgem on Sunday.

His first win at WorldTour level, Girmay explained in a post-race interview that he was not meant to ride the 248.8km Classic but was drafted in on Friday after his performance at E3, leaving him in a greater shock that he was able to claim the victory.

"It's unbelievable, amazing. I cannot expect this," Girmay said. "We just changed my plan a few days ago on Friday. We just came for a good result. This race is amazing. Unbelievable." 

Biniam Girmay wins the 2022 Gent-Wevelgem

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On the final sprint, Girmay said he had grown in confidence during the race having struggled initially on the cobbled sectors, but managed to stay in touch as he recognised all eyes from his competitors would be on defending champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the crucial ascents of the Kemmelberg.

"Of course I feel much better but also there's really strong guys with me so I'm a bit afraid," Girmay said on making it into the decisive group. "But I felt confident in the last 250m. It's unbelievable.

"I lost many places [on the Kemmelberg], especially on the first section and on the first cobblestones. I felt a bit uncomfortable. But after I felt better and better, rode smart, followed. Then in the end you know everybody is waiting for Van Aert so I played it a bit easy."

Asked whether the Gent-Wevelgem victory would convince him to ride the Tour of Flanders next Sunday, Girmay said he would return home having not seen his wife and daughter for three months while racing in Europe. He also ackowledged what his victory could mean for African cycling going forward.

"It changes a lot in the future, especially for all African riders," he said.

Girmay is next scheduled to ride the one-day Eschborn-Frankfurt in May after a period of rest, before taking on his first Grand Tour at the Giro d'Italia later that month.

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Richard Windsor

Follow on Twitter: @richwindy

Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.

An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL6 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).