Eritrea’s Girmay now 1st Black to win a Tour de France stage

Biniam Girmay grew up in Eritrea watching the Tour de France cycling race on TV each July with his father. Now Girmay has become the first Black African rider — actually the first Black cyclist from any continent — to win a stage of the three-week-long premier cycling event.

“I never dreamed to be part of [the] Tour de France,” Girmay said Monday after wiping away some tears. The timing couldn’t have been better. Next year, Rwanda will become the first African country to host road cycling’s world championships. “It’s our moment to show our strength and our potential,” Girmay added.

Before the podium celebration, Girmay went over and greeted Eritrean fans waving their country’s green, red and blue flag. The initial plan for Girmay’s Belgian team was for him to lead out the sprint for a leading teammate. But when Girmay lost touch with his teammates on the 143-mile Stage 3, with many riders caught behind a crash, he was given the green light by his coaches.

He edged past other sprinters at the finish in Turin, Italy. (The Tour started in Italy for the first time this year and moved into France.)

Girmay also made history in Italy two years ago when he won a stage at the Giro d’Italia to become the first Black African to take a victory in one of road cycling’s Grand Tours. But Girmay’s Giro victory was marred when he was rushed to a hospital after getting hit in the left eye by a prosecco cork he popped open during the podium celebration — forcing him to abandon the race.

He was more careful in his celebration this time. “This win is worth more,” he said. “I don’t have words to explain how important this victory is for me and for my continent.”

Girmay started riding in single-day races at home in Eritrea and then left home for the International Cycling Union’s development center in Aigle, Switzerland, in 2018. In 2021, he won a silver medal in the under-23 road race at the world championships in Belgium. Then at the start of 2022, Girmay won a single-day classic in Belgium.

Merhawi Kudus and Daniel Teklehaimanot paved the way for Girmay when they became the first Eritreans to ride in the Tour de France in 2015 — riding for the South African MTN-Qhubeka team.

Human rights groups describe Eritrea as one of the world’s most repressive countries. Since winning independence from Ethiopia three decades ago, the small Horn of Africa nation has been led by President Isaias Afwerki, who has never held an election.

Riders from only one other African country — South Africa — have won Tour stages: Robert Hunter (2007) and Daryl Impey (2019). Four-time Tour champion Chris Froome was born and raised in Kenya but represented Britain.

“This is so important for cycling,” said Aike Visbeek, the performance director for Girmay’s Intermarche-Wanty team.

“There is a whole continent that has been waiting for this,” Visbeek said. “It’s been done now, and I hope it will open the floodgates for more riders from Africa. He’s an ambassador in every way.”

Girmay isn’t done yet. He’s now high up in the points standings for the Tour’s green jersey that goes to the race’s top sprinter. And there are a handful more sprinting stages to come in the 21 stages of the race.

And he’s just 24.

“It’s my time,” Girmay said. “Now we are really part of the big races. We have a lot of victories so it’s our time, it’s our moment. I never cry, but inside I am, I just have no words.”

Source: LA Times

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