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Girmay sprints to Tour stage win but day marred by Drege’s death in Austria
Cycling Sport

Girmay sprints to Tour stage win but day marred by Drege’s death in Austria

Biniam Girmay’s second stage win in the 2024 Tour de France in Charles de Gaulle’s home village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises was overshadowed by the death of the 25-year-old Norwegian André Drege during stage four of the Tour of Austria.

As Girmay, the first black African to win a stage in the Tour, celebrated his success, the news of Drege’s death sent shock waves through the peloton, coming about a year after Gino Mäder died in similar circumstances during the 2023 Tour of Switzerland.

Drege, winner of seven races this year, crashed on the descent of the Grossglockner pass, suffering what the Tour of Austria described as “severe injuries”.

He was riding for Team Coop-Repsol but was scheduled to move up to World Tour level with the Jayco-AlUla team, managed by the former professional Matt White, in 2025.

White said he was shocked by the news coming from Austria. “It’s tragic for any young athlete to lose their life doing the sport they love,” he said. White said that he was “pretty rattled. I would think the rest of the race would be cancelled now.”

He added: “André had been on small teams all his career and was looking for the opportunity to show his wares in the World Tour.”

Mäder’s death in June 2023, also on a mountain descent, prompted huge sadness across cycling and accelerated the development of greater safety measures within the sport.

“We have had two guys dying in one year, and I honestly don’t remember, in the 10 years before, anyone, so it’s bad luck. It’s tragic,” White said.

“It’s a high-speed sport and if anything, we’re going faster. Fifteen years ago, they weren’t wearing helmets. There’s not much more you can change to make it safer.”

Asked if he felt the Tour organisation should pay their respects on Sunday, White said: “I’m sure they will, but it doesn’t bring him back.”

Girmay’s win was the second success for an Eritrean in the Tour and was overseen by the giant Cross of Lorraine, a symbol of Free France.

As the road climbed into the final 250 metres, his uphill sprint was too much for his rival sprinter Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Deceuninck, as well as Arnaud De Lie of Lotto Dstny. Tadej Pogacar of UAE Emirates finished safely in the chasing bunch and retained his overall lead.

A view of the sprinters powering up the final ramp to the line.View image in fullscreen

Meanwhile, the decision by UCI commissaires to fine Julien Bernard 200 Swiss francs (£175) for “damaging the image of the sport” after stopping to greet his wife and daughter during Friday’s time trial brought derision on the world governing body and was described as “totally inept” by the French media.

Bernard, who lives a half-hour bike ride from Gevrey-Chambertin, was greeted by family, friends and fan club on the route of the time trial, pausing briefly to embrace his family before riding on to the finish.

“What a joke,” responded Magnus Cort Nielsen of the Uno-X Mobil team, before posting footage of him stopping to kiss his wife on the Col du Galibier. “Lucky they missed me a couple of days ago,” he said.

There is a long tradition of the regional d’etape, or local rider, being allowed to go ahead and greet his family when the route of the Tour passes close to home.

In last year’s Tour, the French rider Benoît Cosnefroy stopped on the climb of the Col de Joux Plane to greet his overexcited fan club. The 28-year-old leapt off his bike, chugged a beer and danced in the road.

Such moments are usually in road races, not time trials, but if the UCI was seeking to further enhance its reputation as kill joys, it hit the bullseye.

“Sorry, UCI for having damaged the image of the sport,” Bernard said online, “but I’d pay 200 Swiss francs every day to relive that moment.”

Sunday’s 199km gravel stage, based on a circuit east of Troyes, takes the peloton over 14 sections of “white roads” in the Aube. Race leader Pogacar steered clear of the debate over the inclusion of gravel racing in the Tour, but said: “Anything can happen – you have to concentrate from start to finish.”

Source: theguardian.com