Every time Biniam Girmay looked up as he sprinted for victory in the long finishing straight of stage 1 of Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the Eritrean said he could not see the line because of the long shadows cast by the late Spanish afternoon. But he powered on undeterred, towards what is both his first win of the 2023 season and the 10th of his incipient but immensely-promising career.
Despite his issues with the sunset on a finishing straight that pointed steadily westward on the coastal town of Altea, the Intermarché-Circus-Wanty rider timed his final acceleration to perfection, easily beating young Dutch sprinting phenomenon Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma).
Girmay had a couple of near misses in the Challenge Mallorca last week, taking third and second in two races, and even on Wednesday had some technical issues prior to the first of the two second-category climbs that considerably toughened up stage 1 of Valenciana.
But the 22-year-old overcame any issues with more than enough time, and swept away the opposition at Altea to claim the win and the first leader’s jersey of the race.
“Mallorca was not ideal for the sprints, but here it worked out perfectly,” Girmay told a small group of reporters afterwards. “I also did my sprint quite well and I’m super happy with the victory. Once third and once second, so it was time for a victory.
“We controlled almost all of the race from the start, and we managed quite well, especially in the last part. The problem was with the shadows. I couldn’t see how many metres I had left. It was so hard, but I managed to get to the finish.
“I couldn’t see, so I was looking up with 300 metres to go and again with 200,100…it was quite hard but we managed it.”
Local knowledge was very helpful, he confirmed, both in the finish and on the climbs that preceded it, saying, “We knew almost all the parcours because we’ve trained here a lot in the last two or three years. Always in the same area. So I knew it quite well.”
He politely dismissed the idea that he might battle for the overall in Valenciana, saying that was reserved for teammate Rui Costa. Girmay’s latest success both keeps Intermarché-Circus-Wanty atop the UCI teams ranking and confirms his potential to get over the climbs has in no way been diminished in the off-season.
And his team’s hard work in the more rugged part of the stage, while superseded by Bahrain Victorious for much of the final second-category ascent of the day, both kept Girmay in contention and shrank the peloton to a more manageable size. Girmay confirmed that one of his key aims this year is to improve whenever the road goes uphill, given that when it comes to being as fast as possible, he has little to prove.
“I want to be sure I can survive in the climbs and then I’ll go for it afterwards in those kinds of sprints, not just big bunch sprints,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good at those too. And I need to maintain that, because it’s my speciality.
“It’s not easy to survive the climbs, but with the support of my team, I could manage quite well today, I had my teammates with me to bring me back, and that’s good for the next races.”