close
Thursday July 25, 2024

Girmay gives hope of worldwide expansion for road cycling

By AFP
July 04, 2024
Biniam Girmay of Eritrea seen celebrating after winning a stage of the Tour de France.— AFP/file
Biniam Girmay of Eritrea seen celebrating after winning a stage of the Tour de France.— AFP/file

VALLOIRE, France: The very same day Biniam Girmay became the first black African to win a Tour de France stage, Olympic champion Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian to pull on the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

A neutral observer may have been forgiven for believing those two events showed top-level road cycling knows no borders. Eritrean Girmay was swift to dedicate his triumph to the “whole African continent”, a continent barely represented at the Tour de France.

“There’s a bit of development in Africa, but it’s slow. Since Daniel Teklehaimanot (an Eritrean who rode in the Tour de France in 2015 and 2016), we have had very few Africans,” Jean-Jacques Henry, who plays the role of talent spotter for the International Cycling Union, told AFP.

“It’s nice to see what Biniam has achieved and I hope it inspires other African youngsters,” Ryan Gibbons from South Africa, one of three riders from the continent at the Tour, said. However, he has little faith that there will be an explosion of Africans in the world’s greatest bike race any time soon.

“I think there’s only seven in the pro peloton (apart from me),” he said. “There’s still a geat deal of progress to be made.” The composition of the Tour de France peloton has changed in recent years, but European riders still make up the bulk of it.

Since Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong there have been more and more Americans, and Australians, while the creation of the Cafe Colombia team in the 1980s marked the emergence of the Latin Americans.

Nairo Quintana blazed a trail before Egan Bernal won the Tour to become the first Colombian to do so in 2019. But for a sport which is popular across the globe, Asia counts just two cyclists on the World Tour.

“To develop the sports across the world we need competitions across the world,” said Henry, the man who brought Girmay to the UCI development centre at Aigle in Switzerland. Henry and others try to uncover raw talent like Girmay at the continental championships.

“It always takes people time to adapt when they are a long way from home,” said Henry. But these riders have a maximum of six months to find a team, while Europeans have a window of around five years.

“We have had riders come to Aigle as national champions, but they had only taken part in four races in their entire life,” he said. “We had one from Brazil who’d been in just three.” Girmay said it best. “It’s not just that I had to learn English, I had to learn all the language of cycling too,” he said after his historic stage win on Monday.

“I have to thank my team, I have grown each year with them and they gave me time.” “When we were looking for a team for Biniam and people said it was complicated with visas for African riders,” Henry said.

On top of all those barriers, the technological factors also have a considerable role to play. To practice road cycling, above all time-trialling, you need very good roads, not to mention good bikes, with the average cost of a bike on the Tour de France hitting around 15,000 euros ($16,150).