Biniam Girmay of Intermarche-Wanty stormed to history in Wevelgem, Belgium today as he accelerated out of the leading group of four riders from some 350 meters and held his sprint to the line just ahead of Jumbo-Visma’s Christophe Laporte to win Gent-Wevelgem. Girmay became the first African rider to take a major victory in the cobbled classics (and obviously the first Eritrean), as well as only the second rider from outside of Europe to win Gent-Wevelgem. His victory is also a high water mark for his team in its 14 season.
Just shy of his 22nd birthday, Girmay was fifth in his first-ever cobbled classic, the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday, and was not scheduled to have a go at Gent-Wevelgem until after E3. However, he showed remarkable strength and skill in the E3, the premier warmup race for the Tour of Flanders, where he was on the front of the race after Wout Van Aert’s attack on the Taaienberg, and was the last rider in contact with Van Aert and Laporte on the Paterberg when the leading pair got away for the win. Girmay also raced the Brugge-De Panne race last Wednesday, and had ridden La Fleche Wallonne last year, so he was not entirely unfamiliar with racing in Belgium, but with just that thin resume he was able to achieve a remarkable level of ability.
Today, Girmay was joined in the run-in to the finish by Laporte as well as Dries Van Gestel from TotalEnergies and Jasper Stuyven from Trek-Segafredo. The group had roughly thirty seconds for most of the approach to Wevelgem, and the chasing peloton, containing dozens of riders and many hungry sprinters, loomed close by. But none of the chasing teams could quite muster the strength on their own or organize a larger effort with other squads, and the leaders entered Wevelgem with just enough time to monkey around before the final sprint. Girmay, who had missed a turn at one point and got an earful from Stuyven, sat fourth, mustering his strength, before accelerating to the right of the group. Laporte got onto his wheel, but going into a headwind he could do little more than that, and lost by half a bike length. Laporte was second Friday under vastly different circumstances, smiling and hugging his teammate Van Aert as they crossed the line almost simultaneously.
Oh, and Girmay was scheduled to return home to Eritrea tomorrow for a break, where undoubtedly he would receive an incredible reception. However, Intermarche are scheduled to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen, so stay tuned as to whether they ask him to stay around for another week. Results:
1. GIRMAY HAILU Biniam IWG 220 2. LAPORTE Christophe TJV 132 3. VAN GESTEL Dries TEN 112 4. STUYVEN Jasper TFS 96 5. ANDERSEN Søren Kragh DSM 08” 86 6. MERLIER Tim AFC 08” 76 7. PEDERSEN Mads TFS 08” 66 8. GARCIA CORTINA Ivan MOV 08” 58 9. MOHORIC Matej TBV 08” 52 10. DEMARE Arnaud GFC 08” 46 11. KRISTOFF Alexander IWG 08” 40 12. VAN AERT Wout TJV 08” 35 13. MEZGEC Luka BEX 08” 30 14. PASQUALON Andrea IWG 08” 27 15. GHYS Robbe SVB 08” 24 16. REX Laurenz BWB 08” 21 17. VAN AVERMAET Greg ACT 08” 19 18. LIVYNS Arjen BWB 08” 18 19. VERMEERSCH Florian LTS 08” 17 20. ALLEGAERT Piet COF 08” 16 21. PHILIPSEN Jasper AFC 08”
Ieper - Wevelgem 249 km
Windy West Flanders, Plugstreets, De Moeren and a brawl on the Kemmelberg...... Gent- Wevelgem rarely disappoints these days. We may see more Flemish spring beauty than carnage in this weather though unless teams have something special planned to unseat Jumbo-Visma.
Expected finish: 16:40 - 17:15 CEST
Best Sprinter of the Day: Mads Pedersen
I’m making a guess we see a bit bigger group come to Wevelgem again this year. If Jasper Philipsen is healthy I’d be intrigued to see what the new and improved version of him could do here as well, he’s my outside bet.