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From Dreaming in Eritrea to Starting at the Tour de France: Biniam Girmay’s Incredible Rise

By Matt Stephens and Frantiska Blazkova

With the 2024 Tour de France drawing ever so near, the road-cycling fandom is already in the grips of the race’s allure. Since we are focused on deeply personal experiences, memories, and connections with the Tour this year, Matt Stephens also made this podcast instalment into a Tour de France special. The guest today is Biniam Girmay and the topic is the Tour made personal.

Matt caught up with Biniam after he had just clinched a victory at the Circuit Franco-Belge on May 29, but the talented rider has been making waves for some time now. When Biniam first heard about the Tour de France back in Eritrea thanks to his father, a devout cycling enthusiast, he was about four or five. Eventually, it was his cousin who brought him to road cycling, sparking his love for the sport. In the podcast, he names several sprinters as his inspiration and especially highlights Peter Sagan. Biniam mentioned that “he’s happy to have the memory” of Sagan’s famous little victory dances and various other shenanigans at the Tour de France, which are, surely, in the minds and hearts of many a fan as well.

Biniam Girmay
Girmay is the first African and person of colour to win a World Tour Race and a one-day classic at the tender age of 21. © Profimedia

Now Biniam has his own history to write, as he took part in his first Tour in 2023. With Matt, he shared that when he was a little boy, he assumed that with all the gorgeous nature and the spectacular finish at Champs Élysées, the riders have time to enjoy themselves and take in the scenery. As it turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As he laconically summed up, “the Tour de France is really hard.” Nevertheless, he has stated multiple times that the Tour is the only thing he’s “really hoping to win” in his cycling career.

Currently, Biniam is not the only Eritrean rider in the pro peloton. There’s also Merhawi Kudus and Daniel Teklehaimanot. The latter won the Tour de France polka-dot jersey in 2015, which turned out to be a major defining moment for teenage Biniam, who watched it on TV. “When he arrived on the podium, I really cried, [seeing] an Eritrean rider,” exclaimed Biniam, adding that it made him realise that he too could follow in Daniel’s footsteps.

Also, as a curiosity, Biniam explained to Matt that during the Tour de France, Eritrean cinemas barely play films because they run a constant stream of Tour content, and just about every café and household is streaming the Tour 24/7. Eritrean fans also flock to the actual Tour course in droves to cheer on Biniam. And, allegedly, the Škoda Green Jersey is held in higher regard that the GC yellow jersey in Eritrea – which might explain Biniam’s early inclination towards sprinters. Talk about a country-wide fandom.

The 24-year-old Biniam is not only a rising star of the sport but also an exceptional athlete of many firsts. He became the first Black African cyclist to win a Grand Tour stage and a classic cycle race, the first cyclist born in the 2000s to win a professional race, and the first Black African rider to achieve a podium finish in the history of the UCI Road World Championships. Currently, Biniam rides for UCI WorldTeam Intermarché–Wanty, who signed him in 2021. The motto he has on his team profile page, “Veni Vidi Bini,” seems very fitting.

Listen to the whole podcast to find out what sort of legacy Biniam would like to leave behind and who he would like to inspire, what it’s like having the Tour de France as a dream pinnacle win, how the “Biniam Girmay Stage” at the Tour would look, and more.