Vice champion of world hope last year in Leuven (Belgium), Biniam Girmay is part of the list of contenders for the rainbow jersey among adults, this Sunday. But can the Eritrean succeed with such an unarmed team against Belgian, French, Dutch or even Australian giants?
three years from the first World Championships in Africa (Rwanda 2025), can Biniam Girmay become Africa’s first rainbow jersey in Wollongong, Australia? This question is asked by many observers given the great season achieved by the Eritrean runner.
Winner of Ghent-Wevelgem and a Giro stage, the 22-year-old arrives in good form as evidenced by his sixth place at the Bretagne Classic and his podium at the Quebec GP. After making history last year by becoming the first African to win a World Championships medal thanks to his second-place finish among contenders and the first to win a World Tour race, the Eritrean wants to dream big.
If the fierce competition (Van Aert, Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Pocagar, etc.) can be scary, the Asmara native will also have to deal with a team unaccustomed to this level of competition.
Five team members: enough…if they’re up to the task
There will be five who will accompany the Eritrean in his search for the Grail: Metkel Eyob, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, Merhawi Kudus, Henok Mulubrhan and Natnael Tesfatsion. Enough in quantity, maybe not in quality.
Let’s face it frankly, we are far from luxury teammates like Dylan Van Baarle for the Netherlands, Remco Evenepoel for the Belgians or even Valentin Madouas for the French. Also, only Kudus (EF Education EasyPost) and Gehbreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo) play in a World Tour-level team. The latter, with his 9th place in the Tour de la Provence and 6th in the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes and the Var, seems the best equipped to accompany Girmay as much as possible. Light anyway in the face of the announced competition.
The other three evolve at lower levels: Tesfazion rides Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli at the Pro Team level as Mulubrhan (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè). Eyob wears the colors of the Malaysian team Terengganu Polygon, which evolves further below. Fortunately for the Eritrean time trial champion, there are several examples of solo but ultimately winning riders.
Examples to follow: Vainsteins, Rui Costa and inevitably Sagan
In 2000, Romans Vainsteins had triumphed in Plouay (France) to everyone’s surprise. He had raced ahead of Zbigniew Spruch (Poland) and Oscar Freire (Spain) to become the first (and still only) Latvian world champion. Due to the team’s strategy, the one who accumulated the places of honor in the classics did not have to think: he was alone! Well hidden throughout the race, he took advantage of the work of the Spanish so that Freire, who was recovering the main group after all the attacks (Bartoli, Tchmil), came out on the finish straight. An example to follow for Girmay.
In 2013The Portuguese Rui Costa had played against Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde to put on the rainbow jersey in Tuscany. In a profile that approximated the Australian route, the winner of three stages of the Tour de France had played the trick to perfection, letting the two Spaniards and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) break away to fight back a kilometer from the finish, he sums up “Purito” and runs ahead of him. The future world champion was only accompanied by two companions: Tiago Machado (28th) and André Cardoso (retired), but he maneuvered taking advantage of the interests of each one. A vision of the perfect race that the Eritrean will have to do to win.
In the same way, in 2015 and 2016, Peter Sagan postponed his first two iridescent jerseys only in the presence of two teammates: his brother Juraj Sagan and Michael Kolar. For his first coronation, the Slovak also let the bigger teams do their thing. Unseen in the various groups ahead, the seven-time green jersey of the Tour had the joy of seeing the peloton drop back five kilometers from the finish. In these conditions, he placed his start on the last small cobbled hill of the course, never to be seen again.
The following year, he had watched the curb thrown by the Belgians in the 170 kilometres, which had eliminated many competitors, before finishing in the sprint. He had been able to count on Kolar, present with him in this group of about twenty runners. Either way, Girmay will have to choose when he pushes himself and always keep location in mind.
2017 being a different year for the Slovak who, thanks to his good performances in particular, saw his country’s quota of cyclists rise to six cyclists. However, the lower quality of his team brings him even closer to the Eritrean case. Same number of team members, same relative “weakness”. Smart, he left the weight of the race to his opponents. Hiding all day, he had taken advantage of the work of the other teams to return Julian Alaphilippe under the red flame to achieve an incredible hat-trick.
Thor Hushovd in 2010 or even Stephen Roche in 1987 also had a small team, but the two men could rely on world-renowned riders (Edvald Boasson Hagen, Alexander Kristoff and Sean Kelly for the Irishman) to take them to the end of the course.
Will he be able to count on the support of his colleagues at the Intermarché Wanty-Gobert?
We know that when you race all year with the same teammates before meeting opponents once a year, it’s not uncommon to lend a little hand to your friends if you don’t hinder their selection chances.
Trouble for Girmay, her top selected comrades will be… among her most dangerous competitors! Quinten Hermans at the service of Wout van Aert for Belgium, Taco van der Hoorn for Mathieu Van der Poel (Netherlands) and even Lorenzo Rota for Matteo Trentin (Italy). Difficult in his conditions to imagine the small relief that goes well to bring the rainbow jersey back to the team.
What tactics to adopt in these conditions?
The Eritrean will have no margin for error. Given the great competition, Girmay will not be able to chase everyone and will have to choose who to score. He too will need some success because his salvation will depend on the work of other nations.
With the aforementioned phenoms not hesitating to take the solo race far from the end, the Eritrean’s biggest weakness – his isolation – could turn into a strength. If a group of strongmen emerge far from the end, they will more quickly find themselves on “even terms” against certain leaders.
Their Striker-speedster versatility allowing you to play your card even in case of arrival in a small group. It’s easier to be in a race-ready posture while staying alert. On such a course, the legs will speak faster than on a flat course, perhaps more tactical. All that remains is to have a good day and dominate the myriad of cycling stars. Easier said than done…
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