Biniam Girmay’s multiple near-misses in the recently completed Tour Down Under show the sprinter is already in better shape than early in 2023, say his Intermarché-Wanty team.
After a crash-marred 2023, the 23-year-old fast-man had a point to prove in 2024 and a strong start was the best way for that to happen. And even if Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) proved impossible to beat on the roads of South Australia this January, Girmay was always in the mix.
Third, fourth, eighth and second on the opening four stages of the Tour Down Under, Girmay will now complete his Australian early season campaign at the Surf Coast Classic (January 25) and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 28).
And as Intermarché-Wanty team manager Jean-François Bourlart told Dernière Heure, this January Girmay has already shown the signs of year-on-year progress the squad wanted to see.
“He’s going better than he was at this point in the 2023 season,” Bourlart told the Belgian newspaper. “He’s had a better winter and we could even see that at the team training camp in December.
“The goal was to hit the ground running right away because last year his season was relatively short, as he had those two big crashes at Flanders and the Clásica San Sebastián.”
Currently on the hunt for a new second title sponsor, Bourlart explained that having lost a rider of the calibre of former World Champion Rui Costa from their 2023 lineup, in 2024 the team’s main focus would be on Girmay and their younger riders.
Amongst that latter group, Bourlart cited 2023 Critérium du Dauphiné stage winner Georg Zimmermann – already in the break on stage 1 of the 2024 Tour Down Under, Gerben Thijssen, who won various semi-Classics last year, and Laurenz Rex, a top 10 finisher in the most recent edition of Paris-Roubaix.
“But our main leader remains Biniam Girmay, he’s a huge talent,” Bourlart said. “His sprints this week in Australia impressed me and annoyed me at the same time, seeing him finish third after starting his sprint when he was running 20th. Bini is the central figure in the team.”
“Last year, he was going well at the start of the year” – winning the opening stage in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana – “but after spending some time in Eritrea between Valencian and Tirreno-Adriatico, he came back one or two percentage points down on where he should have been,” the team’s chief operating officer Maxime Segers told Dernière Heure.
“And at that time of year, you can never make up for any lost time. Then he was forced to stop as well with his crashes. We did a good deal of foundation work this winter and to see him in the mix straightaway is no surprise for us.”
Segers said he was confident Girmay had the maturity and intelligence to be able to analyse what had gone wrong in a below-expectations season like 2023. He also pointed to some changes in the Eritrean’s life off the bike that could help him regain momentum this year, most notably basing himself in Belgium for the season.
No fan of cold, rainy weather, and given to travelling by rail rather than using a car, “Now he’s realised that it’s easier and less tiring to train here in Belgium, even under the rain than to be constantly going back and forth to Italy,” Segers said.
Another big change for Girmay is the arrival of his little brother Meweal in Intermarché-Wanty’s development team, Wanty-ReUz-Technord.
“Meweal is 19 so he’s a first-year Junior and according to Bini, he’s a bit smaller and a bit faster than him,” Segers said.