Biniam Girmay: Trailblazing Eritrean beats Mathieu van der Poel to make history with Giro d’Italia victory
After days of knocking on the door, Biniam Girmay is now a Grand Tour stage winner – and in quite some style. The 22-year-old Eritrean fought back after riding the wrong way at the business end of an absorbing 196km Stage 10 through the hills of Le Marche before outlasting his big Dutch rival Mathieu van der Poel in an epic sprint for the ages.
Watch the moment Girmay became first Black African to win Grand Tour stage
Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) became the first Black African rider to win a Grand Tour stage after holding off Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in a thrilling finale on Stage 10.
Girmay was forced to fight through the pack in the closing kilometres after briefly going the wrong way on a descent, but his superb Intermarche team delivered him back to the front of a reduced 30-man group that contested the win.
A number of riders chanced their arms in an explosive finale as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) sparked a string of attacks, with Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Van der Poel and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) among those to try to break free.
But it came back to a reduced sprint with Girmay launching first from the wheel of veteran teammate Domenico Pozzovivo and holding off Van der Poel, who sat up to salute the Eritrean as he crossed the line to create history.
It was a great gesture from one of cycling’s modern-day champions, giving his seal of approval for a victory that was as poignant as it was intense – an indomitable display of brute force from the brink. Van der Poel had managed to come almost level with Girmay on the home straight before the elastic snapped and the Dutch Stage 1 winner’s shoulders slumped to concede spoils to his worthy conqueror in an image that will become an iconic moment in cycling history.
The accident meant Girmay – who made ripples earlier this spring by becoming the first African to win a cobbled classic at Gent-Wevelgem – was unable to attend the Giro’s daily press conference after the stage, but he did manage to thank his teammates for the role they played in his victory shortly after the race.
“All the team – even the GC riders like Pozzovivo, Jan Hirt, Rein Taaramae – were pulling and they did a great job,” an emotional Girmay said before the bizarre cork incident that would ultimately end his Giro. “Then at the end Pozzo was amazing – he came to me and said, ‘Come’ with six-hundred metres to go, and he did a really good lead-out. It was amazing.”
Richard Carapaz of Ecuador and Team INEOS Grenadiers crashes during the 105th Giro d'Italia 2022, Stage 10
Image credit: Getty Images
Ecuador’s Carapaz, the 2019 winner, finished in the top five on a day he fought back from a small crash, but there was no change in the general classification after all the main contenders finished in the group that crossed the line behind trailblazer Girmay.
Spain’s Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) retained his 12-second lead over Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), with Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Carapaz and Australia’s Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) all within 20 seconds of the pink jersey.
A day of two halves saw a breakaway of three riders – Italians Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech) and Mattia Bais (Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli), and the Belgian Lawrence Naesen (Ag2R-Citroen) – build up a maximum lead of over six minutes on a pan-flat schlep up the Adriatic coast before seeing their advantage get whittled down over the undulating roads in the beautiful yet unforgiving hills of Le Marche.
Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech), Lawrence Naesen (Ag2R-Citroen) and Mattia Bais (Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli) compete in the breakaway during the 105th Giro d'Italia 2022, Stage 10 a 196km stage from Pescara to Jesi
Image credit: Getty Images
All three of the day’s fourth-category climbs came once the race headed inland following the intermediate sprint at Civitanova Marche, where Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) extended his lead over Girmay by a slender point as the sprinters battled it out for scraps in the wake of the break.
Over a succession of steep climbs – many of which hit double digits without earning categorisation by the organisers – the pure sprinters were tailed off, one by one. Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) was first to go with 80km still left to ride, quickly followed by Britain’s Stage 3 winner Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
‘You don’t have to go this hard!’ – Cavendish distanced on climb on Stage 10
Van der Poel suffered a scare after getting some material caught in his derailleur and needing a bike change just as the tempo was high in pursuit of the leading trio. But he fought back on and tucked into the Alpecin-Fenix train on the front of the pack.
Sprinters Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) and Demare were distanced on the final climb once De Marchi, the last man standing from the break, was swallowed up inside the final 20km.
Earlier, in a poignant moment in the hometown of the late Michele Scarpoli, De Marchi allowed his fellow escapee Bais, whose Androni team Scarponi used to ride for, take the spoils in the second intermediate sprint at Filottrano.
‘Oh dear!’ – Van der Poel forced to change bikes… and then chain falls off at Giro d’Italia
Numerous riders tried their luck on the final climb but Girmay’s dependable teammate Pozzovivo ensured that no man was left ahead before the summit, the Italian veteran reeling in compatriot Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) before going over the top on the front of the reduced bunch.
On a pulsating ride into Jesi the attacks came thick and fast with Nibali, Yates, Carapaz and even Van der Poel going clear with big digs – the latter shortly after Girmay had made a hash of a tight corner and momentarily gone the wrong way.
While Girmay fought his way back into contention his teammates covered all the moves – the last of which coming from Britain’s Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) with a few kilometres to spare.
‘Take the right way round!’ – Girmay goes wrong way in nervy moment
Then came the final sprint which saw an inspired Girmay set off from the wheel of Pozzovivo early and emphatically. Van der Poel set off in pursuit and came tantalisingly close to passing his rival – but the Tour of Flanders winner sat up, perhaps beaten by his earlier efforts both to chase back on and to break away before the finish, his wonderful gesture a mark of respect from a man who knew he’d given it his all, but who’d been well and truly beaten.
Paying homage to his riders, Girmay and Van der Poel, Valerio Piva, the Intermarche sporting director, said: “We believed for some time that today could be the day and this morning we tried to motivate all the team. And I saw a fantastic team around Bini today and he finished with an amazing sprint against a big champion like Van der Poel. This victory is more important because be beat one of the best riders in the world.”
Opening up on the hectic finale, Piva added: “I tried to tell them to stay calm. Pozzovivo and [Lorenzo] Rota did a fantastic job to try to close the gaps when there were a lot of attacks in the final. Bini missed a corner and there was for some moment a bit of panic. But he was able to come back – I’m very happy.
“It means a lot,” an emotional Piva said when quizzed about the significance of Girmay’s hugely symbolic win. “A new continent coming at the top of cycling – I think that is the future and I think it’s very important for cycling to see victories for riders from Africa.”
Girmay's win puts the Eritrean just three points shy of Demare's lead in the maglia ciclamino standings on the eve of the pan-flat Stage 11 to Reggio Emilia that should culminate in the bunch sprint and provide the Frenchman with the chance to win his third stage of the race.
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