Cycling: Eritrea's Biniam Girmay makes history as first African to win one-day classic

Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay Hailu celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the race on March 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS (AFP) - Biniam Girmay of Eritrea won the prestigious Gent Wevelgem on Sunday (March 27), becoming the first African cyclist to win a one-day classic.

"This changes a lot in the future, especially for all African riders," the 21-year-old said after his narrow and hard-fought triumph in the Belgian cobbled classic.

"I felt confident over the last 250m, but I just came here for a good result, this is amazing."

Girmay was part of a four-rider breakaway in the final 30km of the epic 248.8km run, and sprung an early sprint from the back of his rivals 250m from the line.

Jumbo's Christophe Laporte managed to follow Girmay and was centimetres from catching him, but the African pipped the Frenchman to the line as a chasing pack of pre-race favourites closed in too late.

"I suffered on the cobbles, it's not exactly comfortable," said Girmay after his first race on a cobblestone surface.

"When it came to the sprint I knew the others were strong, but I felt confident," continued the Intermarche-Wanty rider.

Second-placed Laporte was furious with himself.

"I made a mistake, it should have been me launching the sprint," said the 29-year-old, who missed victory by a whisker.

"Chances like that don't come up every day.

"But he came out really quickly and forced a gap, so well done to him."

Girmay was in the mix at the Milan-San Remo and came fifth at the midweek classic E3 race.

He was also a triple African junior champion winning the road race, time-trial and team time-trial in 2018 before winning Africa's first World Championships medal when he took silver at under-23's in 2021.

This Gent-Wevelgem is seen as a warm-up for what is perhaps Belgium's biggest race, the Tour of Flanders, next Sunday.

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