Biniam Girmay: Champagne cork eye injury forces first Black African stage winner to abandon Giro d’Italia

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Biniam Girmay reacts after being hit in the eye by a cork (AP)
Biniam Girmay reacts after being hit in the eye by a cork (AP)

Biniam Girmay, who on Tuesday became the first Black African to win a stage of one of cycling’s Grand Tours at the Giro d’Italia, has had to withdraw from the race after suffering an eye injury from a champagne cork during podium celebrations.

Girmay produced a stirring finish to stage 10 in Jesi, eastern Italy, holding off Mathieu van der Poel in a sprint to the line, and the Eritrean’s glory was an historic moment for both road cycling and African sport.

But Girmay’s joy was cut short as he struggled to open the winner’s champagne bottle on the podium. Leaning over the top of the grounded bottle, he was hit in the face by the erupting cork when it finally came loose, and continued the celebrations with his left eye closed.

Afterwards he was seen by medics and sent to a local hospital for further checks. “After the ceremony, Girmay could no longer see,” his team doctor, Piet Daneels, told Sporza. “We immediately came to the hospital of Jesi, here he was treated well. He had a bleeding in the anterior chamber of the eye. Such bleeding is not threatening to the eye itself, but it is important that this is monitored.”

On Wednesday morning his Belgian team Intermarché Wanty-Gobert posted a video on social media in which Girmay confirmed he would take no further part in the race, despite avoiding any lasting damage.

“Yesterday was unbelievable,” he said. “The team did almost 99 per cent [of the work] until the finish, I am really happy the team what they did, everybody had super motivation, we really helped and supported each other.

“I was a bit sad about what happened with the Champagne, but when I came back to the hotel they were super happy [to see me]. They were a bit afraid but when I looked OK, we enjoyed it. Today unluckily I cannot start the race because I need some rest to give more power to the eye. So I just looking forward to the rest of the season.

“Thank you to everybody who supports me, I’m OK now, see you soon.”

Spanish rider Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) currently leads the race, 12 seconds clear of Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), with Roman Bardet (DSM) of France and Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Ineos) both within 20 seconds of Lopez.

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