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Daniel Ostanek

Biniam Girmay: Our goal at the Tour de France is to win one stage

Biniam Girmay won stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse

Biniam Girmay may be among the top favourites for the green jersey at the Tour de France, but the Intermarché-Circus-Wanty leader isn't yet prepared to go all-in on a bid for the points classification this July.

The Eritrean rider makes his Tour de France debut in Bilbao this weekend heading up the Belgian squad as he seeks to add to his big wins at the Giro d'Italia, Gent-Wevelgem, and, most recently, the Tour de Suisse.

In Switzerland he signalled his form ahead of the Tour with a stage win in Nottwil, outpacing the likes of Arnaud Démare, Wout van Aert, and Peter Sagan in the dash to the line. 

Now, at a Tour de France kicking off with the hills of the Basque Country and three sprint stages in the first week, he'll be taking aim at a stage victory.

"It's absolutely really incredible. I'm super happy and motivated and looking forward to it," Girmay said of his Tour de France debut at his team's pre-race press conference on Friday. 

"I think our goal for the team is to win one stage. We'll try to do that and that's also my personal goal."

Girmay said he's taking confidence from the win at the Tour de Suisse. The result marked a return to form having endured a disappointing spring campaign where he forgot to eat at Gent-Wevelgem, finishing 97th, and then crashed out of the Tour of Flanders, sustaining a concussion.

"When you look back on the Tour de Suisse it's not a low level, it's a high level," he said. 

"So, when you win a sprint in this kind of race it gives me a lot of confidence and a big morale for the Tour. For now, and also for the future, it gives me a lot of confidence to sprint against the big rivals."

So, what about the green jersey ? Girmay is considered a favourite for the prize – behind Van Aert, Jasper Philipsen, and Fabio Jakobsen but ahead of Mads Pedersen, Caleb Ewan, and Mark Cavendish.

Girmay isn't focussed on green just yet, though circumstances might change depending on results.

"I think first we need to see day by day how it's going. We have ambition and planning from the beginning of the season to win one stage and to finish the Tour," he said cautiously.  

"After that, we'll see day-by-day. I think this year will be different, but we never know how it's going on and we'll try to see every day."

Girmay will have the support of a squad largely dedicated to helping him win over the next three weeks, with the likes of Dion Smith, Mike Teunissen, and Adrien Petit set to feature in his lead-out train on the flatter finishes.

Dutchman Teunissen, who won the opening stage and took yellow four years ago, is a new addition to the team this year and is set to feature as the last man for Girmay in the sprints.

"Of course, we try to support him as good as possible," Teunissen said. 

"It's one of the biggest goals of the team. We have strong climbers, but they can also help to do the positioning in the wind on the more easy days.

"Then in Dion, Adrien and me we have three guys who are experienced in preparing a sprint and doing a lead out for Biniam. Of course, in the Tour it's not always easy but we'll try to put him in as good a position as possible and I think we can do good results in the sprints."

Racing offensively and on the front foot is the name of the game for the team at this Tour, and it's not just limited to Girmay. 

The squad can look to past Tour stage winners Rui Costa, Lilian Calmejane to go on the attack, while GC hope Louis Meintjes is aiming to improve on his seventh place last time out.

"Day by day we'll chase the stage win. Our strength is that we have more options and weapons to use and that's how we're going to do it," said team performance manager Aike Visbeek.

"I think we have some unfinished business with the second places of Taco and Louis last year. Two times and then third place in Paris with Alex. Now we have 21 stages.

"When you chase a stage win you can also have 21 disappointments but with the mix of experience we have and the confidence we take from June, we'll take it day-by-day and we'll have more options."

The work towards that elusive stage win begins on day one in Bilbao, a hilly stage culminating in an uphill finish. Girmay will be among the favourites from the start, though as ever he remained modest, playing his cards close to his chest.

"I think it's really hard parcours but when I look back, I'm in better shape now," he said, referring to his Suisse win. 

"For sure it will be difficult. But you never know how it goes and I'll try to do my best."

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