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Biniam Girmay's remarkable journey to becoming first Black African to win a Tour de France stage

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Eritrean Biniam Girmay recently made history by becoming the first Black African rider to win a stage at the Tour de France.

Eritrea's Biniam Girmay recently made history by becoming the first Black African rider to win a stage at the Tour de France. His victory in the third stage of the 2024 Tour de France, a reduced bunch sprint, saw him outpace Colombian Fernando Gaviria and Belgian Arnaud de Lie.

This win adds to his achievements, having already been the first Black African to win a grand tour stage at the 2022 Giro d'Italia.

Girmay's journey to this historic victory began in Asmara, Eritrea. Born on April 2, 2000, Girmay was introduced to cycling by his carpenter father at the age of 11. His father would gather the family to watch the Tour de France every July, instilling in young Girmay a deep appreciation for the sport.

Eritrea, though cycling-mad, had never produced a cycling hero on the global stage until 2015, when Daniel Teklehaimanot wore the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour for four stages. Inspired by Teklehaimanot, a 15-year-old Girmay began to believe that he too could one day compete in the Tour de France.

Despite the challenges of racing in Africa, where opportunities are limited and competitions less frequent, Girmay's determination never wavered. He trained relentlessly, focusing on sprinting despite the prevalence of climbers in Eritrean cycling. His idols were sprinters like Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish, and he honed his speed through rigorous sprint intervals.

At 18, Girmay was selected to train at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre in the Swiss Alps. The transition was tough, involving learning a new language and culture while being far from his family. He struggled initially but gradually adapted to the European racing scene, with its larger pelotons and more challenging courses.

Girmay turned professional in 2020 with Nippo Delko One Provence and joined the World Tour in late 2021 with Intermarché-Wanty. His breakthrough came in the spring of 2022, when he won Gent-Wevelgem and a stage of the Giro d’Italia. As expectations grew, so did the question - would he be the first Black African to win a Tour de France stage?

Wanty's Biniam Girmay celebrates on the podium after winning stage 3 of Tour de France in Piacenza, Italy, on July 1, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

On July 1, 2024, Girmay answered that question definitively. With a perfect lead-out, he won the third stage of the Tour de France in Turin, marking a significant moment in the race's 121-year history. His victory was celebrated not only personally but also as a monumental achievement for African cycling.

“I think everybody will believe that African cyclists can do everything,” Girmay declared. “It means a lot personally for me, but especially for the continent. Eritrean cycling has a long history in cycling – we really have cycling inside our blood, we know so much about the Tour de France, and to win today is amazing. To see myself with the fastest in the world is unbelievable.”

The significance of Girmay’s victory was keenly felt within the Intermarché-Wanty team. Aike Visbeek, the team’s lead sports director, emphasised its importance: “My first words to the guys on the radio were, ‘We made history today.’ This is super important – there is a whole continent that has been waiting for this.”

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