As he gets ready for his Tour de France debut at the Tour de Suisse, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) could hardly have thought up better preparation than coasting past Wout van Aert to beat the Belgian (and Arnaud Démare) in a sprint finish on stage 2.
The Eritrean was a revelation last year as he won Gent-Wevelgem and a stage of the Giro d’Italia, but his much-hyped 2023 campaign unraveled as he crashed out of the Tour of Flanders with a concussion and was sidelined for two months.
Fourth place at the Brussels Cycling Classic on June 4th marked his comeback, followed by a transfer to Switzerland for the Grosser Preis des Kantons Aargau ahead of the Tour de Suisse. His stage win is his first victory since February (at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana) and first WorldTour-level win since that Giro stage last year.
A mostly flat 173.7 km route barring a few bumps from Beromünster to Nottwil, the final kilometre took place on a long curving road. The sprint teams had come to the fore, Belgian champion Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) shadowing Jumbo-Visma’s Van Aert, the likes of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Kaden Groves (Jayco-AlUla) as Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) all freelanced.
As the final Soudal Quick-Step lead out man looked around for Merlier, Van Aert surged up the right hand side with little over 300 metres to go, launching his sprint. Démare and Iván García Cortina (Movistar) jostled for the Belgian’s wheel, which ultimately didn’t matter as Girmay whooshed up the left-hand side, needing no draft to overhaul Van Aert with 100 metres to the line with time to sit up and celebrate as he took the win. Démare snuck up into second with Van Aert third.
Girmay was mobbed by Eritrean fans, who always turn up in number at their star rider’s races, with the race chaperones trying in vain to hold them back and guide Girmay back towards the podium.
“Yeah, just when I crossed the line I was surprised,” Girmay explained after taking the win. “Still two months ago, the hard crash, I didn’t have enough time to allow for [that] shape. But today, it was just…surprising myself just going crazy,”
“That means a lot,” he said of the support from his Eritrean fans at the finish. “I knew there was [no Eritrean rider] who’d won the Tour de Suisse [stage before] but the first time to win in front of my people I’m so happy.
“We still have six days to go so the race is not over,” he answered when asked if he will be celebrating with those fans tonight. “I need to focus for the upcoming days but next time we celebrate again.”
Groupama-FDJ’s Stefan Küng retains the overall lead after his stage 1 time trial victory, with Soudal Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel in second, five seconds down, and Van Aert a further second behind his compatriot in third.
Three mountain days now follow, with only one more likely opportunity for the sprinters to compete for stage honours on stage 6. Another day with a lot of uphill follows on stage 7 before a final day time trial to close the race out.
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