A unique feat in the history of cycling: never had a black African won a race at this level
African cycling finally breaks into the world of two wheels that counts. For the first time, Sunday 27 March 2022, he triumphs in a classic from the North. And he crosses an epochal milestone.
The Eritrean Biniam Girmay Hailu wins the Ghent-Wevelgem race in Belgium, one of the most important races of the entire international calendar and one of the hardest for the kilometers of cobblestones.
The race, now in its 84th year, was a kind of monopoly for Belgian cyclists. Since 1934 it has been dominated 50 times by home riders, 7 times by Italians and just twice by non-European riders.
Let’s imagine if we thought about the victory of an African athlete . Well, Sunday 27 March becomes a historic day: Biniam Girmay Hailu, 21 years old (he will turn 22 on April 2), originally from Asmara, beat his fellow fugitives in a sprint, with strength and cunning: the French Christophe Laporte, the Belgians Van Gestel Dries and Jasper Stuyven, far more experienced than him.
A unique feat in the history of cycling: never had a black African won a race at this level. And the young Eritrean, while absolutely incredulous of his performance, was well aware of the influence that victory will have on national pride and on the future of this sport in Africa and Eritrea. As we have had the opportunity to write in Africa Express, the discipline is in full development in the Black Continent, as evidenced by the world road cycling organization assigned, in 2025, to Rwanda, for the first time.
Biniam, however, is not exactly a surprise . The success in Belgium is the seventh of his professional career which began just 2 years ago: he won 4 stages in the two most important races on the continent (3 at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, one at the Tour du Rwanda); the Classic Grand Besançon and, in 2022, the Alcùdia Trophy. In 2021 he was considered almost a national hero after having obtained the silver medal at the Under23 World Cup behind the Italian Filippo Baroncini.
In the last month he had already given clear signals of his conditions and his desire to emerge: he was placed in the top 10 in the Paris-Nice and Milan-Turin and twelfth in the Milan Sanremo, the first classic monument of the cycling season.
Biniam Girmay, of very humble origins, is married and has a daughter. After the amazing sprint he can’t wait to reach his two people most loved by him: “I have not been home for three months – he said – I certainly did not think of obtaining such a victory. I didn’t even know I had to run the Ghent-Wevelgem until last Friday. I hope it is a turning point for African cycling. Now I’m going home and getting ready for the Giro d’Italia (in May, the first three-week race of his career, ed) “.
Girmay rides in the Franco-Belgian team Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, which had followed him for some time and who offered him a four-year contract. The executives had been right. “Ever since Biniam was trained in the World Cycling Center in Switzerland – declared the general manager Jean-François Burlart last August – already in the junior category he had shown his talent by beating Remco Evenepoel (one of the strongest in circulation ed. ) – Our club has decided to focus on young Eritrean cyclists ”.
Coach Aike Visbeek reiterated: “We have invested for the future in Biniam, we have planned a long-term path with him. He has a calm and good character, but above all he has a strong winning personality “.
His cousin Meron Teshome Hagos, former African time trial champion in 2017, had infected him with his passion for cycling in 2015.
“My whole family – says Girmay – has converted to cycling, which in Eritrea has become a national sport. Just think that in my country there are one hundred races a year ”. And the fruits are now visible.