The winner of the Gent-Wevelgem 2022 full picture: young, strong, intelligent and empathetic. And of course forever the first African winner of a Flemish classic. It is not certain that he will also become the standard bearer of cycling on the African continent.
“Why don’t we take his wife and daughter to Belgium?”
Beniam Jermay left Belgium on Monday afternoon and returned to his wife and daughter in Eritrea. A shame, according to many cycling enthusiasts. Understandable to every family member.
Jan Bakilants, fellow Intermarche and Ante Joubert, also has mixed feelings. In sporting terms, Jermay could have done for himself and his team a great service. On Twitter, Bucklantis called on his team on Sunday to fly his daughter and wife to Europe instead of Jeremy, who is taking the opposite step.
“His daughter and wife can come here for a week to attend the race. The fit rider should reap the benefits of being in the best shape. I speak from experience when I say the puzzle pieces don’t fit together every year.”
“It’s often easier mentally when something is impulsively added to your program, than when you as a contestant fix yourself up all winter on a certain date when you have to be good. Only superheroes can do that.”
On the other hand, Jan Bakilants – a father himself – naturally understands the context of the family.
“I totally respect his choice and maybe he shows his mental strength. He shows he can stick to a plan and that’s something we Flemish people sometimes struggle with.”
“If Wout van Aert decides not to ride the Cyclo-cross World Championships, we don’t understand it. But Wout says it doesn’t fit into his program and is now reaping the benefits.”
Administrative problems are one reason why European cycling teams are still not allowed to give African riders a chance.
Eritrea: We do not welcome journalists
Moreover, there is also an international context. Both Europe and Eritrea have rules that Biniam Giray must take into consideration. Non-Europeans cannot travel in Europe without restrictions. And certainly not their family.
“It’s not easy for Africans to move their wives and children to Europe,” Bucklantis says. “I think Binyam will try that in the second part of the season. He now lives in San Marino, but it turns out it’s tough with visas and passports.”
What certainly doesn’t help is that Benjamin Girmay’s home is not a free democracy as we know it in Europe.
For example, the VRT tried to send a journalist to Eritrea to record how Girmay was received there, but journalists are not welcome in the dictatorship.
The rules are strict. For example, the state requires top athletes to return home after three months abroad. This will also play a role in Jeremy’s decision.
“Administrative misery is also a reason why European cycling teams sometimes deter from giving African riders a chance,” says Jan Bakelants. †I’m not always sure you’ll get your starting cyclist somewhere.”
The bird does not make spring for the African knights
No one doubts at the moment: Biniam Girmay’s race at Gent-Wevelgem isn’t the last we’ve seen of the 21-year-old’s top talent. Whether it will pave the way for more Africans in the pack is an entirely different question.
Jan Baklantis believes that “the proverb that a bird does not make of spring is not appropriate here.” “There were African knights who tried but they advanced for a short time.”
“It’s too early to say that Africa is on the eve of a major breakthrough and will take the reins of the race. And that’s something Colombians have done in some sense in the toughest hill races.”
“If you forget a number of Slovenes in it, the places of honor and victories in difficult mountain stages are often Colombian.”
African riders who can shed certain values may now have a chance faster.
“This success could attract more interest to cycling in Africa. Then that interest must be properly channeled and the right people must be able to capitalize on this interest.”
“Maybe in the future more value will be given to the performance of young Africans in African minor competitions.”
“And if there are rumors of an African rider who could throw off certain values, perhaps the teams decide faster to give that rider a chance, despite the administrative difficulties.”
If Biniam Girmay can do that, it will be his biggest win right away.
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