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The 21-year-old sprinted out of a group of four attackers to land a breakout result in his first full cobblestone campaign, beating Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) and Dries van Gestel (TotalEnergies) to the line in Wevelgem.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafero) finished fourth out of the attackers before the charging peloton – including top favorites Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) – came to the finish seconds later.
Girmay has only a handful of cobbled races in his young palmarès, but looked on the brink of something big with his fifth-place finish at E3 Classic on Friday. His sprint victory Sunday made for rapid confirmation of his huge talent and made him the first African rider to win a marquee Belgian classic.
“It is unbelievable, amazing – we changed my plan on Friday night. I was coming for some good results, but to win this race, it’s just unbelievable,” he said at the finish.
Girmay made a long powerful sprint from the back of the group of experienced classics stars and narrowly fended off Laporte’s late surge. He said he felt more comfortable coming from the back and going early.
“I felt much better, but there were strong guys with me, I was a bit afraid,” he said. “When I went back to last and I felt more confident. When I was in the last 250m, I had more confidence.”
Also read: Girmay confirms promise at E3 Harelbeke
Girmay’s second-place finish at U23 worlds last year and now his victory at Gent-Wevelgem has propelled African, and particularly Eritrean, riders directly into the world’s eyeline.
Despite the victory Sunday, he will miss Tour of Flanders next weekend to fly home to reunite with family.
“This has changed a lot for me, and it’s a bright future, especially for African riders,” he said. “Congrats to all African riders.”
How it happened: A tale of three climbs
The fearsome Kemmelberg climb often proves crucial in Gent-Wevelgem, and Sunday was no different.
First Kemmelberg – first serious split
The winds didn’t blow hard enough to force the splits and echelons that can prove so decisive in the opening hours of the race, and the early break of seven went into the hilly mid-sector with a five-minute gap.
Bahrain-Victorious and Jumbo-Visma motored at the front of the peloton before van Aert and Asgreen started throwing down at 90km to go.
Van Aert went first on the Baneberg, and then again with Asgreen on the first ascent of the Kemmelberg. The race exploded and a group of 20 dangermen – excluding van Aert – dived away on the following descent and caught the breakaway.
Like earlier this spring, Asgreen was without Quick-Step wingmen in the group of attackers.
Although Peter Sagan was dropped, TotalEnergies chased hard in the peloton for Anthony Turgis, and the catch was made inside the final 60km.
Second Kemmelberg – second serious split
Trek-Segafredo controlled into the second Kemmelberg climb and Asgreen drove the pace over the summit.
A group of around 16 went clear over the top, with Jumbo-Visma, Trek-Segafredo and Groupama FDJ among those taking numbers into the escape. Asgreen was again isolated.
Girmay was always active toward the front of the bunch along with a handful of teammates, but the Eritrean never showed too much, biding his time for the final
Skirmishes came and went from the first attack group and the yoyo-ing pace saw a bunch of around 40 come together again ahead of the final trio of climbs.
Tiesj Benoot (JumboVisma) and Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ) started pressuring over the penultimate climbs in one last effort to split the group before the flat final run toward Wevelgem but the group stayed together heading into the final Kemmelberg climb.
Third Kemmelberg – there goes van Aert
The final Kemmelberg ascent saw van Aert try to make his “Hail Mary” move.
Van Aert kicked hard at the bottom of the climb and rocketed away from a small bunch of chasers over the summit.
A handful of groups joined the Belgian ace soon after the descent to form a mini-peloton at the front of the race.
Jumbo-Visma stacked numbers into the front of the race, and Laporte looked to work the numbers with his attack at 25km to go, dragging Girmay, Stuyven and van Gestel with him.
The quartet rolled through together into the headwind and managed to pull out a 30 second lead over a bunch of two-dozen chasers.
Jumbo-Visma let the move go for Laporte and the peloton stuttered. Sensing the chance for a bunch-sprint was vanishing, Alpecin-Fenix, Quick-Step and Groupama-FDJ started pulling hard in the bunch in the final 15km.
The quartet started losing ground on the chasing pack and the race dangled on a knife-edge as the race roared into Wevelgem.
The peloton was just over the foursome’s shoulders when Girmay opened the sprint from the back at around 250m to go. The Eritrean took a wide line and dug deep to narrowly fend off a late surge from Laporte and score a huge breakout victory.
“I was surprised by Girmay when he opened his sprint so early,” Laporte said. “I wanted to win today and I didn’t think he’d sprint that so early and it was complicated when there was a bit of a gap. It’s a big disappointment for me because the team rode great today.”
Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields ME Results
|1||GIRMAY Biniam||Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux||5:37:57|
|3||VAN GESTEL Dries||TotalEnergies||0:00|
|4||STUYVEN Jasper||Trek - Segafredo||0:00|
|5||KRAGH ANDERSEN Søren||Team DSM||0:08|
|7||PEDERSEN Mads||Trek - Segafredo||0:08|
|8||GARCÍA CORTINA Iván||Movistar Team||0:08|
|9||MOHORIČ Matej||Bahrain - Victorious||0:08|
|10||DÉMARE Arnaud||Groupama - FDJ||0:08|
|11||KRISTOFF Alexander||Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux||0:08|
|12||VAN AERT Wout||Jumbo-Visma||0:08|
|13||MEZGEC Luka||Team BikeExchange - Jayco||0:08|
|14||PASQUALON Andrea||Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux||0:08|
|15||GHYS Robbe||Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||0:08|
|16||REX Laurenz||Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB||0:08|
|17||VAN AVERMAET Greg||AG2R Citroën Team||0:08|
|18||LIVYNS Arjen||Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB||0:08|
|19||VERMEERSCH Florian||Lotto Soudal||0:08|
|22||KOCH Jonas||BORA - hansgrohe||0:08|
|23||VAN DEN BERG Marijn||EF Education-EasyPost||0:08|
|25||ARANBURU Alex||Movistar Team||0:08|
|27||DEGENKOLB John||Team DSM||0:08|
|28||TURNER Ben||INEOS Grenadiers||0:08|
|29||SKAARSETH Anders||Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||0:08|
|30||TILLER Rasmus||Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||0:08|
|31||BEULLENS Cedric||Lotto Soudal||0:08|
|32||ASGREEN Kasper||Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team||0:08|
|33||CAMPENAERTS Victor||Lotto Soudal||0:08|
|35||VALGREN Michael||EF Education-EasyPost||0:08|
|36||KÜNG Stefan||Groupama - FDJ||0:08|
|37||FRISON Frederik||Lotto Soudal||0:08|
|38||PETIT Adrien||Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux||0:08|
|39||LAMPAERT Yves||Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team||0:14|
|40||KIRSCH Alex||Trek - Segafredo||0:17|
|41||VAN BAARLE Dylan||INEOS Grenadiers||0:25|
|42||LE GAC Olivier||Groupama - FDJ||0:25|
|43||KANTER Max||Movistar Team||0:27|
|44||JACOBS Johan||Movistar Team||0:27|
|45||WRIGHT Fred||Bahrain - Victorious||0:29|
|47||SÜTTERLIN Jasha||Bahrain - Victorious||1:20|
|48||DE LIE Arnaud||Lotto Soudal||1:20|
|49||ARNDT Nikias||Team DSM||1:22|
|50||HAUSSLER Heinrich||Bahrain - Victorious||1:29|
|52||DE GENDT Aimé||Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux||1:30|
|53||VAN ROOY Kenneth||Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||1:30|
|54||DE VYLDER Lindsay||Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||1:30|
|55||HOULE Hugo||Israel - Premier Tech||1:30|
|56||OLIVEIRA Rui||UAE Team Emirates||1:30|
|58||SCULLY Tom||EF Education-EasyPost||1:30|
|59||NAESEN Oliver||AG2R Citroën Team||1:36|
|60||DEWULF Stan||AG2R Citroën Team||1:36|
|61||THEUNS Edward||Trek - Segafredo||1:36|
|62||VAN HOOYDONCK Nathan||Jumbo-Visma||1:36|
|63||ANIOŁKOWSKI Stanisław||Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB||1:42|
|64||VAN LERBERGHE Bert||Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team||1:49|
|65||GENIETS Kevin||Groupama - FDJ||1:49|
|66||TOUZÉ Damien||AG2R Citroën Team||1:56|
|67||PIDCOCK Thomas||INEOS Grenadiers||1:56|
|68||JAKOBSEN Fabio||Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team||7:06|
|69||VIVIANI Elia||INEOS Grenadiers||7:06|
|70||TRENTIN Matteo||UAE Team Emirates||7:06|
|72||LUDVIGSSON Tobias||Groupama - FDJ||7:06|
|74||MOZZATO Luca||B&B Hotels - KTM||7:06|
|75||ERVITI Imanol||Movistar Team||7:06|
|77||VANMARCKE Sep||Israel - Premier Tech||7:06|
|78||ARASHIRO Yukiya||Bahrain - Victorious||7:06|
|79||POLITT Nils||BORA - hansgrohe||9:56|
|80||MARIT Arne||Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||9:56|
|81||HALLER Marco||BORA - hansgrohe||9:56|
|82||MÄRKL Niklas||Team DSM||9:56|
|83||BARBIER Pierre||B&B Hotels - KTM||9:56|
|84||LIENHARD Fabian||Groupama - FDJ||9:56|
|85||RAUGEL Antoine||AG2R Citroën Team||9:56|
|86||HALVORSEN Kristoffer||Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||9:56|
|87||MACIEJUK Filip||Bahrain - Victorious||9:56|
|88||KONYCHEV Alexander||Team BikeExchange - Jayco||9:56|
|89||BOARO Manuele||Astana Qazaqstan Team||9:56|
|90||RUTSCH Jonas||EF Education-EasyPost||9:56|
|91||VAN HOECKE Gijs||AG2R Citroën Team||9:56|
|92||BOASSON HAGEN Edvald||TotalEnergies||9:56|
|93||SAUGSTAD Lars||Uno-X Pro Cycling Team||9:56|
|94||MORICE Julien||B&B Hotels - KTM||9:56|
|96||BISSEGGER Stefan||EF Education-EasyPost||9:56|
|97||LANGEVELD Sebastian||EF Education-EasyPost||9:56|
|98||SCHÄR Michael||AG2R Citroën Team||9:56|
|99||HOOLE Daan||Trek - Segafredo||9:56|
|100||VERGAERDE Otto||Trek - Segafredo||9:56|
|103||BRAET Vito||Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||9:56|
|105||PAASSCHENS Mathijs||Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB||9:56|
|106||BENNETT Sam||BORA - hansgrohe||9:56|
Results provided by ProCyclingStats.