'Unbelievable': Biniam Girmay seizes opportunity in watershed moment for cycling

Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert rider becomes first Eritrean Grand Tour stage winner

Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Missing a turn with about 7km to go to the finish might have spoiled everything for a lesser rider. Not Biniam Girmay. The Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert rider might have gone right when everyone else went left, but he wasn't ruffled (or, if he was, it didn't show). The Eritrean rejoined the lead group, and prepared to win. 

Seven minutes later, Girmay outsprinted Mathieu van der Poel - yes, the two-time Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche, Tour de France stage winning Mathieu van der Poel - in Jesi on stage 10 of the Giro d'Italia.

In case it wasn't already abundantly clear, Girmay is the real deal. The first black African to win a Grand Tour stage, and the first black African to win a Belgian Classic at Gent-Wevelgem earlier this year, he is a champion who - at 22 years-old - will go on to win many, many more races.

"It’s amazing," his directeur sportif Valerio Piva said. "We believed from the morning… we tried to motivate all the team, and we saw a fantastic team around him today. He finished in an amazing sprint against a big champion like Van der Poel. This victory is more important because he beat one of the top riders in the world."

Girmay's sheer delight, relief even, at the finish line was clear, as he finally won in this Giro after coming close on stages one, three, five, six, and eight. His popularity was also clear- immediately he was congratulated by Van der Poel as the pair crossed the line, and then one of the first people to give him a hug was maglia rosa winner Juan Pedro López.

Some questioned why Girmay was not racing the Tour of Flanders after his success at Gent-Wevelgem, but at the time he was clear in his wish to return home and spend time with his family ahead of the Giro. It clearly worked for him. No one would bet against him taking more wins on the few opportunities left for fast men at this Giro, or from claiming the points jersey in the process.

"Unbelievable," was all Girmay could say at first in his post-race interview. It feels it.

"The team controlled the race from the start," he continued. "I don’t have any words for my team, but what they did today… I’m really happy. Unbelievable.

"All the team, everybody was pulling, even the GC riders, like you saw [Domenico] Pozzovivo, Jan Hirt, Rein Tarrame everyone. They did a super great job and in the end end Pozzo was amazing. He just said come in the last 600m, he did a really good leadout and then amazing.

"Until I started the Giro, we had a possibility to win, to make good results, so this is part of the success, my team, my family, everybody. Every day new history comes, so I’m really grateful and happy with what I did."

Girmay is a superstar. Eritrea is a cycling-mad country and legions of fans have been following him around Europe this year. The turnout for a race like Eschborn-Frankfurt of Girmay-mad spectators was incredible.

This success will only propel him further into stardom, both in his home country, and across Africa. But the young man has the form and the power to deliver the results his compatriots crave.

What makes this result all the more notable is that Eritrea was colonised by Italy in the 19th century, during the 'Scramble for Africa', which it remained until the Second World War, before coming under British control and then part of Ethiopia.

No Italian has yet won at this Giro, yet an Eritrean has, in a watershed moment for cycling, for sport, even. European imperialism might still cast a shadow over Africa, but there is hope in the emergence of those like Girmay.

"It means a lot. A new continent comes at the top of cycling, that is the future," Piva concluded. 

Girmay is the future, but he is also the present. Unbelievable.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.