Biniam Girmay chasing history again at UCI Road World Championships

Eritrean sprinter hopes to add more chapters to his trailblazing career in the elite men's road race Sunday: 'Being one of the favorites gives me a boost.'

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Biniam Girmay already wrote history in last year’s world championships. Flash forward one year, and he wants to add another chapter.

The Eritrean became the first Black African to win a UCI Road World Championships medal last year with silver in the U23 men’s road race.

This year, he returns to Wollongong as a favorite for more hardware in the elite men’s road race.

“Being one of the favorites gives me a boost,” Girmay said. “Winning the worlds medal last year changed my life. Now people show up at my house asking for selfies and autographs.”

The 22-year-old is quickly adjusting to life in the fast lane, with one historic marker after another.

With his move to the WorldTour, every win — be it at Gent-Wevelgem or a stage at the Giro d’Italia — Girmay is rewriting the record books.

All the big successes does have its downsides. Girmay said he’s no longer an unknown factor in the peloton.

“Winning always is good for the confidence, but now people know me more, and I am more marked in the races,” he said. “The whole peloton is nice to me.”

It’s all business as Girmay heads toward another date with history Sunday in Wollongong.

“The world championships is one of the big focuses of the year,” Girmay told journalists recently in Canada. “I put as much focus on that as any big race. We’ve been doing special training for the longer distance of the worlds.”

Girmay is not discounting his own chances in Sunday’s race, but puts Wout van Aert as the first among many.

“There is not just one favorite, but many. I put Wout van Aert first, and then just behind, Michael Matthews. He is racing at home and the course should suit him,” Girmay said. “Not forgetting Mathieu van der Poel, who is one of the favorites everywhere he races.”

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Girmay is coming into Wollongong off a string of promising results.

The Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert rider was third at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and returned to Europe to finish second to Van der Poel at the Grand Prix de Wallonie.

Unlike many of the riders in Canada, Girmay returned to Europe to race again, and then traveled to Australia.

“I’m very happy with this third place at my first participation in the GP de Québec,” Girmay said in Canada. “It feels unreal to achieve a podium from such a strong field of riders with many of the world’s best classic riders.”

Girmay on worlds: ‘It’s not a question of who’s fastest, but who is freshest’

Biniam Girmay will be among the favorites in Wollongong. (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

After recovering from a freak accident when an exploding cork on the winner’s podium struck his eye at the Giro, he returned to European racing in July. Though he has yet to win a race, he’s been banging into the top five consistently all summer.

A pair of crashes, however, set back his preparation for his highly anticipated debut in the elite men’s ranks in Wollongong, and his top results in Canada and Belgium against worlds favorites confirmed he’s on rainbow jersey form.

“This is my preparation for the world championships, and that’s why we decided to race here,” Girmay said. “For the worlds, my shape is coming up, and I am happy with my performance right now. We hope to keep going like this all the way to Australia.”

Eritrea will bring a deep linenup with Girmay at the center of the team’s plans.

“We are six professional riders in the Eritrean selection and everyone is in good shape,” he told journalists last week in Canada. “I’m counting on Natnael Tesfatsion, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier and Henok Mulubrhan to help me. They have already proven that they can manage a long race.

“If the team can get me into the final laps, keep me in good position, and keep me out of the wind, then it’s up to me. That’s the best scenario.

“After such a long race, it’s not a question of who is the fastest, but who is the freshest. We will see.”

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