On Tuesday, Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay made history when he “won the 10th stage of the Giro d’Italia, the sport’s second-biggest event,” making him the “first Black African cyclist to win a stage of one of the Grand Tours.”
His win is even more remarkable when you consider that fact that just four miles before the finish line, Girmay took a wrong turn. Fortunately, he was able to recover “to win a closing sprint against the more experienced and decorated Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, who gave a sporting thumbs up when his rival crossed the line.” Upon finishing the race, Girmay said, “It’s unbelievable.”
Even though Girmay only began cycling in 2015 after his cousin introduced him to the sport, his ascent to the top has been rather swift. Three years later in 2018, he became a junior African Champion, and another three years later, “he came in second in the under-23 category at the world road racing championships—the best finish ever for a Black African cyclist” in 2021. In March of this year, he achieved yet another first when “[h]e became the first Black African to win a race on the World Tour, at Ghent-Wevelgem in Belgium.” To date, Girmay is “ranked 31st in the world…[and] is the only African in the current world cycling top 100.”
Over the course of his career, Girmay has gained “a reputation as a savvy rider, whose fearlessness, agility, and control helped him recover his position on Tuesday and break free from the pack in the sprint. His team, Intermarché-Wanty, is considered a second-tier outfit, but Girmay has had them punching way above their weight,” Slate reports.
Just two weeks before the race, Girmay was “intent on making history…racing [in] his first Grand Tour and ‘first big stage race’ of any kind.” In a bit of foreshadowing, at a Giro press conference, 22-year old Girmay said, “It’s the dream of all cyclists to win a Grand Tour…specially the Tour and Giro, the biggest races. A Black rider has never won a stage of a Grand Tour. So it’s a big ride.”
Girmay is no stranger to pressure and understands that when he cycles, he is racing for himself, in addition to his country, and representation within the broader sport of cycling, especially when considering that at the elite level of the sport, cycling pelotons, which are the main body of riders during a race, are “overwhelmingly white. Most riders are European, with some North and South Americans thrown in. No Black Africans even competed in the Tour de France until 2015, when Girmay’s countrymen Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus took part.”
Unfortunately, Girmay will not be moving onto the 11th stage of the Giro d’Italia and withdrew from the race after “a prosecco cork exploded into his left eye on the podium…[and he] suffered a hemorrhage in the anterior chamber of his eye.” Ironically enough, two weeks ago, van der Poel out-sprinted Girmay, taking the victory during the first stage of the race, and ended up launching “his Prosecco cork right into his own face.”
However, this latest freak accident has caused race organizers to tweak their “‘Prosecco protocol’ in light of Girmay’s injury,” and have started removing the Prosecco bottle corks ahead of the celebrations at the podium.
There could be a silver lining to all the chaos—as Eurosport reports, “[t]he one positive for Girmay is his unfortunate withdrawal could mean a call-up to the Tour de France, with his from in Italy suggesting he is capable of starring on cycling’s biggest stage.”