It was a big day for cycling as Biniam Girmay became the first African cyclist to ever win Gent-Wevelgem. Girmay followed Christophe Laporte’s attack from the peloton with 23 km to go, forming a strong four-man group. The Sprinters teams such as Alpecin-Fenix, who missed the move, were not able to catch them. In the end it was Girmay who launched his sprint first, beating in the final straight Laporte, van Gestel and Stuyven. It is by far the biggest victory for the 21-year-old Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert rider whose future looks bright.
Gent-Wevelgem is a sprinters classic that can end in many ways due to a hilly sector at the second part of the race. With 34 km to go, the peloton still was fairly big when riders reached the last categorized climb of the day, Kemmelberg Ossuaire. Wout van Aert went full-gas up the climb, although he started his surge deep from the peloton. Van Aert tried to go solo as he had a little gap, but was brought back quickly by Kasper Asgreen, Mohoric, Pedersen and other big contenders.
The shattered peloton came back together with 25 km to go. Jumbo-Visma were active the whole day and they had multiple options and clearly no desire to bet everything on van Aert’s sprint from the peloton against Mads Pedersen, Tim Merlier or Arnaud Demare. It was Christophe Laporte who made a move and attacked with only Biniam Girmay, Jasper Stuyven and Dries van Gestel able to follow the Frenchman.
The quartet was fully-committed to working together and they had a good chance to ride until the finish as two big teams, Jumbo-Visma (Laporte) and Trek-Segafredo (Stuyven) were represented in the group. In the peloton multiple sprinters teams, FDJ-Groupama (Arnaud Demare), Movistar (Ivan Garcia Cortina), Alpecin-Fenix (Tim Merlier), were pulling but the gap was holding between 30-40 seconds with Stefan Kung seeming to run out of steam.
Laporte and Girmay theoretically were the fastest guys in the leading group. Stuyven had in the peloton his teammate Pedersen, who had a decent chance to win a bunch sprint, but the Belgian still worked hard as anyone. Van Gestel did not have a chance to win the sprint against these riders, but finishing Top 4 in Gent-Wevelgem would still be the biggest result of his career.
In the last kilometre the leading group could afford to play cat and mouse for a bit as they had a little gap over the peloton with FDJ not able to chase any more. Laporte before the sprint was in the worst possible position at the front after a half-hearted attack as they passed under the flamme rouge. It was Girmay who launched first from the back of the group into a headwind. It looked like it was too early, but in the end the Eritrean won the 15-second sprint. Laporte very well saw when Girmay launched, but took some time to hop on his wheel and could not come around him late.
Van Gestel beat Stuyven for third place. Søren Kragh Andersen with a late attack from the peloton, finished 5th, while the fastest in the bunch sprint were Merlier, Pedersen and Garcia Cortina.
Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert today took 625 UCI points at Gent-Wevelgem with Alexander Kristoff and Andrea Pasqualon finishing 11th and 14th. Massive day for the team as they took a big step forward to avoid relegation, look forward to our article tomorrow with the fortnightly update on the relegation rankings..
Girmay is only 21-years old and already has in the bag one of the biggest Spring classics. Unfortunately for us fans, it looks like the African will not ride Ronde van Vlaanderen in the next weekend as he plans to go back to Eritrea to his family and take a break before Giro d’Italia.
It was a massive day for African and Eritrean cycling. On this same day Girmay’s compatriots Henok Mulubrhan won the African Championships in the road race, but Natnael Tesfatsion finished 4th in the hilly GP Industria one-day race in Italy. Mulubrhan and Tesfatsion are showing consistent results and both are only 22-years-old without a contract in the next season. It was not easy for Girmay to earn a World-Tour contract, despite the good results he was showing early on. A year ago he was still riding for DELKO pro-conti team, which folded after the 2021 season.