Eritrean cyclist makes Tour de France history

The World’s host Carol Hills speaks with CEO of Team Africa Rising Kimberly Coats about Biniam Girmay’s historic Tour de France win and cycling’s increasing popularity in East Africa.

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Biniam Girmay is the first Black cyclist to win a stage at the world’s biggest cycling race, Tour de France. He called his victory “a win for all Africans.”

Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay, wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey, celebrates on the podium after the ninth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 123.7 miles with start and finish in Troyes, France, July 7, 2024.Daniel Cole/AP

The World’s host Carol Hills spoke to Kimberly Coats in Las Vegas. She knows Girmay well and is the CEO of Team Africa Rising, which works to grow the sport on the African continent.

Carol Hills: You know Girmay and his story. How much does this victory in the sprint stage actually mean to him?
Kimberly Coats: Well, it means the world to him. But even more importantly, it means so much to all the young cyclists who are in the development process on the African continent, which are literally thousands of young kids, men and women. This has been years in the making. I started it in Rwanda in 2009. So, this has been 15 years, and seeing the progress of somebody like Biniam make it through the ranks and make it onto the history books is huge. I can’t even put it into words most days. 
So, you followed him from the beginning. Tell us about his backstory. 
Biniam Girmay is from Eritrea, and Eritrea is a challenging country. Like most African countries, it’s very difficult to get visas to places like Europe. With cycling on the African continent, we lack access to equipment. We lack access to training. In many cases, like in the case of Eritrea, internet is very challenging. So, there are a lot of advantages that European and even American cyclists have before they even get to the start line. Biniam has to overcome so much and it makes it that much harder. 
I was reading about Biniam, and I was interested to learn that cycling was already popular in Eritrea because of the Italians who’d colonized it, and they made the cycling popular. So, he sort of grew up watching cycling races.
A hundred percent. I’ve been to Eritrea on several occasions, and there’s this one road right outside of Asmara, the capital city, and you will literally see hundreds upon hundreds of young cyclists up and down this road, training on all sorts of bikes, and you’ll see all the pro jerseys among all these riders. So, as Eritreans make it out, make it onto professional teams, there’s several on pro continental and world tour teams that they give back to their local community. And you see kids wearing Intermarché jerseys and being the next Biniam Girmay, or Lidl-Trek jerseys. It’s just amazing to watch. 
I’m curious, you know how in East Africa, the runners from there sort of have an advantage in international competitions because of the altitude? Is that true for cycling, too, because Biniam has been training all these years at higher altitudes, does that really help him prepare for something like the Tour de France?
It definitely does. I think Asmara is at almost 8,000 feet. So, within East Africa — whether it’s Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea — most of these guys are along the Great Rift Valley, so they do train at altitude. I know when we lived in Rwanda, we were at about 6,700 feet. On top of that, it’s not only just the altitude, it’s just their natural, God-given gift to be able to race at this level. So, it’s not a matter of, do they have the talent? It’s a matter of, do they have access to everything they need to nurture that talent? 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Click above to listen to the entire discussion.

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