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Biniam Girmay’s historic cycling triumph mirrors Africa’s growing pedalling prowess

BINIAM Girmay, an Eritrean cyclist recently made history as the first black African to win a stage at the Tour de France. His victory is evidence of rapid growth in African cycling, with cycling clubs and events across the continent offering an exciting array of talent and professionalism.

WHEN 24-year-old Eritrean cyclist Biniam Girmay crossed the finish line first in the fourth stage of the Tour de France on Monday, July 1, it was a resounding testament to the growing prowess of African cyclists on the world stage.

Girmay who cycles for Intermarche Wanty, a French cycling club, scooped the historical win becoming the first black African to win a stage at the Tour de France, one of the world’s premier bicycle race events.

“Since I started cycling, I never dreamed of being part of the Tour de France, but now I can’t believe it… I want to thank all Eritreans and Africans. We must be proud. Now we’re a part of the big races… It’s our moment, it’s our time,” Girmay expressed in his post-race interview.

The third stage which Girmay won is the longest stage of the 2024 edition stretching more than 230km between Piacenza and Turin in Italy. He beat 175 rival riders with a time of 5 hours 26 minutes 48 seconds.

The Tour de France, the oldest and most prestigious of the three Grand Tours, is an annual men’s multi-stage bicycle race primarily held in France. The 2024 edition kicked off in Italy last weekend, but for the first time since 1905, it won’t finish in Paris due to the upcoming Olympics.

Past African winners in the Tour de France include South African; Robert Hunter, who won a stage in 2007, and Daryl Impey, who won a stage in 2019. Additionally, four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who boasts seven Grand Tour victories, was born in Kenya but represents Britain.

Girmay has a history of making headlines. In 2022, he became the first Black African to win a stage at a Grand Tour by finishing first in the 10th stage of the Giro d’Italia. His accolades also include being voted the best African cyclist of 2021 at the World Championships in Leuven, among other achievements.

However, Girmay’s victory on the highly reputable global stage, Tour de France, is a testament to the growing excellence of Africans in cycling, a sport that has been witnessing growth in popularity in recent years.

Eritrea is especially home to some of the finest cyclists with The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Tour rankings dominated by other Eritrean names such as Tesfazion Nathaniel, and Mulueberhan Henock, among others in addition to Girmay.

Compatriot Merhawi Kudus, despite taking a break from professional cycling in 2019 until recently, remains a prominent name on the global cycling stage. He has secured major medals in prestigious competitions like the Tour du Rwanda, the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey, and the Tour of Oman, among others.

At the national level, current UCI rankings place Eritrea top in Africa with 3694 points, South Africa (1164 points), Mauritius (1061 points), Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Benin, Zimbabwe and Namibia complete the top ten list of African countries most competitive in cycling.

Flourishing cycling clubs across Africa have cultivated exceptional talent, transforming the sport. African cyclists are no longer just newcomers; they’re now formidable forces on the global stage, shattering expectations and challenging the elite.

In South Africa, cyclistsguide.com lists hundreds of cycling clubs spread across the country offering different services ranging from bike renting, training and maintenance services.

Besides, cycling clubs are crucial in organizing bike races and attracting elite riders to the continent. This not only motivates budding cyclists but also provides them with vital exposure.

The 2024 Skoda Titan Desert Morocco, is one of the major recent mountain bike racing events held in Morocco in May. The 6-stage 600km race across the desert brought together some of the biggest cyclists in the world.

Also, Tour du Rwanda is one of the biggest African professional cycling 8-day events covering 6 cities and 8 stages. Others include the Cape Epic and the XCM Mountain Bike Challenge, among others in South Africa.

Consistent with the sport’s growth at home, African cyclists led by Girmay will be keen to leave a mark in the upcoming Olympics in Paris later this month.

Team Africa features both seasoned elites and promising newcomers. South Africa’s Candice Lill will be making her third Olympic appearance, while 19-year-old Egyptian Shahd Saeed, the African record-holder for the 500-meter sprint, will make his Olympic debut.

“I didn’t imagine that I would reach that far so fast. It’s my dream to become an Olympic athlete… I will do my best to do well in the Paris Olympics. I hope to make my family and country proud,” he stated in a June interview on CGTN.

By The African Mirror