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JESI, Italy (VN) –Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux team director Valerio Piva described Biniam Girmay’s debut stage victory in the Giro d’Italia as a great moment for the Eritrean rider, for the Belgian team, for African cycling, and for the sport of cycling.
Beaming with delight after Girmay launched the final sprint into the finish town of Jesi and then held off Mathieu van der Poel to take a victory that was brilliantly created, equally well taken, rapturously received by local fans, and hugely significant as the first by a Black rider at a grand tour, Piva said Girmay and Intermarché finally found the good fortune they needed after near-misses earlier in the race.
“From the beginning of this Giro we’ve been trying and trying, and we’ve seen that we’ve been a bit short when it came to actually winning a stage, but today we got the luck that we needed,” said the Italian team director.
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“It’s amazing, I can’t believe it. We already had a focus on this stage from some days ago and this morning we tried to motivate all the team. I saw a fantastic team around him today and he finished with a fantastic sprint against a big champion like Van der Poel so this victory is bigger I think because he beat one of the top riders in the world.
“This victory means a lot, that a new continent has come to the very top of cycling. I think that is the future and I think that it’s important for cycling that riders from Africa are winning.”
Piva explained that he had told his riders to stay around Girmay as much as possible during the day, and they did their job perfectly.
There were no fewer than three of them alongside the Eritrean in the 28-rider group that sprinted into the finish, while the others helped by bringing back the break and then splitting the bunch on the run-in.
“I told the riders to try to stay calm and at the end Domenico Pozzovivo and Lorenzo Rota did a fantastic job to close everything down in the final when there were lots of attacks. Bini missed a corner and for a moment there was a bit of panic but it was OK, he came back,” said Piva.
The Italian director revealed that he’d said nothing to his riders in the final kilometer and left it up to Girmay to decide when to open up his sprint.
“I cannot manage this situation. It’s down to the rider’s feeling. I think the fact that he started the sprint so far out meant that he knew he had the legs. I saw Van der Poel come alongside him, but he still had something left to make a last push and stay in front.
“I’d like to have 10 like him. He’s very friendly, very happy, every morning he comes down with a smile. He’s built a group around himself, they’re all friends. I think that’s the secret to this success,” Piva continued.
“Everybody’s happy to help him and we have a really good spirit in the team. Domenico too was amazing in the finale. He’s a rider with a lot of experience and we know that he can give a lot to the team.”
The victory, Piva added, also had great significance for the team, which is battling for survival at the elite WorldTeam level.
“From the start of the year we’ve been riding fantastically well. We won Gent-Wevelgem with him, we’ve won a lot of other races, the riders are super motivated. We know that we need to fight to the end, to keep this position in the WorldTour, which is also important for us,” he said.
Piva explained that the victory will now lead to a bigger focus on the ciclamino points jersey. Arnaud Démare still wears it, with 151 points, but Girmay is now just three behind the Frenchman.
“We thought from the start the ciclamino jersey could be a target, and that’s why we’ve started to sprint in the intermediates. We’ll see over the next three days. Tomorrow should be a sprint again, but one that’s really for the pure sprinters, and then we’ll see in Genova, in Cuneo,” said Piva.
The extraordinary leadout for Girmay’s breakthrough victory came from diminutive climber Pozzovivo, who told VeloNews that he couldn’t remember ever being in that position before during his 18-year professional career.
“I don’t remember the last time I led out a sprint, but for a stage win? Maybe never,” said the Italian, who is right in the GC mix after a great ride on Sunday’s Blockhaus stage that lifted him to eighth overall.
“There weren’t so many riders at the front and the last 800 meters were uphill and suited me better. When I saw the space I said to Biniam that he should follow me and it turned out to be a very good idea,” Pozzovivo said. “I made that commitment because I knew he could really win this first one. It was a team victory that was obviously crowned by a great champion.”