With his second place in the road race of the U 23 Under-23s at the 2021 World Championships in Leuven, it was already clear that Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux had hooked up with a very talented rider from the African continent. With that result, he made history because he was the first black African cyclist to win a medal at a World Cup.

He had already shown his nose to the window as a junior by beating Remco Evenepoel in the first stage of the three-day Aubel-Thimister-Stavelot in 2018. In the final classification, he then finished third behind winner Evenepoel.

The big breakthrough

It came last year with his victory in the classic Gent-Wevelgem, where he was the fastest of a group of four. A race he only added to his program at the very last minute. Later in the season, he took his first stage win in a major tour, the 10th stage of the Giro d ‘Italia. He had come very close a few times in previous stages, but in the stage from Pescara to Jesi he managed to make history again.

"I have been waiting more than a month for this win."

The Italians brought the bicycle to Eritrea

The country was a colony of Italy from 1890 to 1941. The Italians introduced the bicycle to the country which also made cycling popular. In fact, it is now the biggest sport there. The first black Africans to participate in the Tour de France were two Eritreans, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus in 2015. What could be better than Biniam becoming the first Eritrean to win a stage in the Tour of the former colonizer.

A hero in Eritrea

After the medal the World Cup and his victory in Gent-Wevelgem, he received a hero’s welcome in his home country of Eritrea in the capital Asmara, located at 2,400 meters above sea level, and was driven around in an open car. He is a scion of a cycling-mad country, something you wouldn’t immediately expect from a country in the Horn of Africa. And he’s just heading home for an altitude training trip. That’s a bit different from sitting alone on the Teide.

© Rens Klaasse
© cyclingmedia agency

Leading up to the new cycling season

Starting in December, wintering on the Costa Blanca sees many of the pro teams training along the coast and in the hinterland to hone their fitness for the new season. As icing on the cake, cycling fans even had the opportunity to enjoy a cyclocross World Cup race in Benidorm this year in which Wout and Mathieu competed for victory at the cutting edge. Biniam was also on training camp with the team, and during the team’s training camp in Albir in early January, there was plenty of opportunity to explore the finale of the first stage of the Tour of Valencia.

Biniam’s fantastic start to the season

He rode three of the five races of the Challenge Mallorca. In two of them he was on the podium with second and third place. Then in early February, the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana could see riders cross swords for the first time in a five-day stage race. And it was an instant hit. The first stage, which started in Orihuela and finished in the coastal town of Altea, located near Benidorm, was 189.4 km long. After a 120 km flat run-up, two second category climbs followed, the Coll de Rates and the Alto de Bernia. Then it was more than 39 km downhill to Altea. A cob for the sprinters who can also ride uphill reasonably well. The almond trees, which turn pink in February, made for beautiful pictures along the way. Five riders rode away right from the start. One of them was our compatriot Ward Vanhoof (Team Flanders-Baloise). However, they didn’t get more than a 3-minute lead from the peloton. At 80 km from the finish in Callosa d’en Sarria, Biniam was well surrounded in the belly of the peloton. On the climb of the Coll de Rates, the leading group is caught. Olav Kooij of Team Jumbo-Visma already had to get dropped there but his teammates bring him back with 60 km to go. Finally a group of 62 riders rode to the finish. The last few hundred meters were, contrary to what the route book stated, in a slightly uphill line. Biniam convincingly won the sprint ahead of Olav Kooij (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Iván García Cortina (Movistar Team).

Immediately uncorking the bottle

We have not yet forgotten the incident after the 10th stage in the Giro where he got the cork in his eye and had to give up. This time it was not a bottle of champagne but a bottle of cava that had to be uncorked. Biniam did that with verve, it looked like he had been practicing. Afterwards, he told the following: “I have been waiting more than a month for this win. I am in good shape and last week in Mallorca I was already close to winning a few times. My plan was to win at least one stage here. We have already achieved that goal and now we are looking forward to another win. We are going to help Rui Costa in his fight for overall victory in this race.”

The first leader’s jersey in a European stage race

Once again, Girmay is making history by becoming the first African rider to don a leader’s jersey in a stage race. In addition to the overall classification, he also became the leader in the points classification and the best young rider. Quite a costume party on the podium, then. And Intermarché-Circus-Wanty thus also became leader in the UCI World Ranking. Although Biniam had to abandon in the fourth stage, the Tour was still a great success for the team. Because Rui Costa won the final stage and became overall winner ahead of Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segrafredo and Tao Geoghehan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers). A great start that also bodes well for the rest of the season.

Eritrea has even more talent

In the Tour du Rwanda, 23-year-old Eritrean Henok Mulueberhan also managed to take the overall victory after two stage wins. A new emerging talent it seems. In the run-up to the 2025 World Cup, to be held in the capital Kigali, more and more well-known teams are taking part to sample the atmosphere and courses of one of the most important stage races in Africa. Cycling is clearly on the rise in Africa.


Text: Rens Klaasse

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