Biniam Girmay’s victory at Gent-Wevelgem was a watershed moment for cycling, as the 21-year-old Eritrean rider became the first African rider to win a Belgian Classic.
The decision was only made on Friday that Girmay would ride Sunday’s race, leaving little time for preparation, but that didn’t stop him from making the key move off the front alongside Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies) before beating them all in the sprint for the line.
Another decision, one that was made a long time ago and he will be sticking to, is to return home to his family this week after three months away, despite many people hoping that he would line up for next weekend’s Tour of Flanders, where he would have been one of the favourites.
“I had already made my schedule in December,” Girmay said in the press conference following his victory. “I have been here for three full months and miss my wife and daughter. I have to go home, also to recharge the batteries. And I will be celebrating my 22nd birthday there.”
Claims have been made that Girmay has to return to Eritrea whether he wants to or not because he is in Europe via a Schengen visa, which allows for non-EU nationals to spend 90 days within the Schengen Area (a zone containing 26 European countries) within a 180-day period.
His team, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, have dismissed these rumours, reiterating that Girmay just wants to see his family after three months away and that home roads will provide him with the perfect preparation for his next challenge, the Italian Grand Tour. “It is perfect there to prepare for the Giro since he lives at altitude,” the team’s press officer told CyclingTips.
Girmay’s schedule so far in 2022 also doesn’t add up to visa issues denying him the chance to contest the Tour of Flanders. He arrived back in Europe in early January for a Spanish training camp and has raced solidly since. This would mean he would have less than three weeks remaining on a Schengen Visa within which to complete the 21-stage Italian Grand Tour in May. Girmay is clearly a talented bike rider, but not talented enough to bend the space-time continuum. At just 21 years old, he has time on his side when it comes to the world’s biggest bike races.
He said he will aim to win a stage in Italy, which would be another huge moment for the sport, but for now it seems he will let Gent-Wevelgem sink in a bit.
“This is special for me and for Intermarché-Wanty Gobert, but also for African cycling,” Girmay said. “I am not the first Eritrean victor, you know [Daniel] Teklehaimanot and I was already on the podium of the U23 World Championships.
“But this victory in a Classic is different, bigger. The passion for cycling in Eritrea is huge, but we only know the Grand Tours and some Classics. Today’s race was not live on TV, but my family and friends followed the race online.”