Biniam Girmay: the money at the Worlds is for Eritrea and for Africa
Biniam Girmay hailed a historic moment for Eritrea and all of Africa after winning the silver medal in the U23 men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships.
The rising star escaped from a small field to come second in Leuven, just seconds after solo winner Filippo Baroncini. In doing so, he made history, becoming the first Eritrean and the first black African to win a medal at the World Road Championships.
“For me, for my nation, also for Africa, it means a lot,” Girmay said as his section of the post-race press conference lasted that of the world champion to his left.
“I’m really happy. I’m really proud of my nation, so I say congratulations to all Eritreans and also to all Africans.”
Girmay abruptly nodded as he crossed the line, which at first looked like a manifestation of frustration. He had been the fastest in the small pack, only thwarted by a lone striker, but it soon became clear that there was not a hint of disappointment.
He sank onto the tarmac and was assaulted by his teammates and staff, and could no doubt hear – if not see – the Eritrean supporters laden with flags in Leuven.
“Yesterday I called my family and they told me to remember when I was a kid,” he revealed. “My dad said to me ‘I hope you become one of the greatest runners in the world, you will be world champion.’ So I was on the phone with my dad and all my family, and they told me. said ‘sure you can do it and take a medal’.
“I say thank you for all my family. They have supported me. They give me a really good motivation, every day. When I started my sprint I was a little nervous but I was also just thinking about getting one of the medals. . Not to win, just to finish in the top 3 and I did. I’m happy with my place. “
Girmay has been touted as a great talent, but his journey to the top of the sport is far from straightforward. Cycling is popular in Eritrea, but in terms of access routes to the professional ranks it lags far behind European cycling centers.
“I’m from the capital Asmara. It’s the cycling zone in Eritrea,” Girmay said, explaining his roots. “Every Sunday there is a race, and all the people who love cycling give you lots of advice. I started when I was 12, at school. I did mountain biking but I also started road racing when I was 15. “
Girmay’s big break was an invitation to the UCI World Cycling Center, to which he says he owes a great debt of gratitude. The WCC is an initiative of the governing body of sport to develop runners from backgrounds that can normally prevent them from reaching the professional ranks, accommodate them in Switzerland and provide structured training and access to races.
“After winning the African Continental Championships – in TT and road racing – the UCI invited me, so I joined them in 2018 and stayed until the end of 2019. It was really important – one of the most important things, “Girmay mentioned.
“I ran a lot of races with them and gained a lot of experience. When you are young you come to Europe and you see the peloton – big peloton – and a lot of tactics. Mentally and physically I have grew up at the World Cycling Center.
“It means a lot to me because I went to Europe in 2018 and every year, with every step, with every new experience, I learn a lot. It has worked today.”
Girmay then signs his first professional contract with the France Delko team for 2020, and he immediately wins by winning two stages of the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon. He then finished second behind Giulio Ciccone at the Trofeo Laigueglia, then Loic Vliegen at the Tour du Doubs, as well as four podiums at the Tour du Rwanda and fourth at the Giro della Toscana.
Interest skyrocketed, WorldTour teams began to go around in circles and, as Delko found itself in financial and administrative difficulty this year, a mid-season transfer to WorldTour company Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux was organized in early August. Very quickly, he was preparing to win the Besançon Doubs GP, his first professional victory on European soil.
“When I joined this team I was super happy. I think it’s a good team. It’s not just a team but a family,” he said. “I also say thank you for giving me the opportunity and supporting me over the last few months. I joined mid-season but they immediately gave me the chance to sprint for the win.”
Girmay has signed a long-term contract with the Belgian team and recently moved to Lucca, Italy, where there is a large contingent of Eritrean runners. He’s signed until 2024 – a sign of his high odds – during which he hopes to hone his skills as a versatile sprinter and start winning bigger and bigger races.
“Right now I’m really watching the Classics, also some hilly races with a sprint,” he said. “It’s my best ability so I’m working to make it faster in the tuck sprints and the small climbs. I also want to show over the next few years that I can be one of the great runners.
“When I was little I loved sprinters. I wouldn’t say he’s my hero, but I love Peter Sagan, not only for his cycling but also outside of cycling. He’s really funny and easy to learn. to live.”
The future does indeed look very bright for Girmay, but he is also aware of the potential impact of his silver medal not only in the next few years, if not the rest of his career, but for decades and generations to come. .
“In Eritrea our future is bright,” he said. “We have great potential. It’s not just the last few years, it’s longer.
“We will have more experience and improve mentally and physically every day. There is a very good future, I think.”