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Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) pushed Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) all the way to the line on the uphill finish to line in Visgrád on the stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia.
The Eritrean sprinter arrived at the Giro with plenty of hype after his superb spring classics campaign and he didn’t disappoint at his first opportunity to contest a grand tour stage finale.
Girmay and his team held their nerve in the final kilometers as several attacks went off the front on the lower slopes of the last climb. He looked as though he might be slipping back inside the last kilometer, but he fought on to launch his sprint from about fifth position in the bunch.
He briefly held the lead before Van der Poel overtook him with just fewer than 50 meters to the line.
“It was a super hard finish, I tried my best. I did a bit longer, I started almost 250 or 300 meters so I was on the limit, but Van der Poel was just stronger than me today,” Girmay told reporters at the finish. “I was really happy with my result. Of course, this is my first grand tour and the first stage so I’m super happy with the second place.
“My team was quite good today and they were always protecting me and it worked well. Everyone did a great job from the beginning of the race, and we also made the race harder at the end of the climb because we needed to. We are super happy.”
Girmay was still coming fast and Van der Poel didn’t have time to celebrate as he crossed the line. It is the first time this year that the pair have gone up against each other, after Van der Poel missed the early part of the classics, but the Dutchman has been impressed with what he’s seen from the young rider so far.
“It was a typical finish where it hurts a lot to sprint after an uphill finish. But I am really happy to take it and Girmay showed already in Gent-Wevelgem that he’s a really strong rider. Of course, today he was where he had to be, he’s really good at positioning. He’s going to be there in the future, for sure,” Van der Poel said.
Girmay came close to being caught in a crash in the final meters of the stage as a tiring Caleb Ewan clipped the back of his rear wheel. While the Australian hit the deck, Girmay kept going unhindered by the close encounter.
“I was doing my sprint and then I felt something behind me, but I didn’t see anything,” Girmay said.
While he may have missed out on taking the stage win and the pink jersey, Girmay’s second place was enough to put him into the white jersey of the young rider competition.