Biniam Girmay claimed stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday to create history as the first Black African to win on any of the three grand tours but his celebrations were cut short by a champagne cork.
Girmay was struck in his face when fumbling with a magnum bottle on the winners’ podium, leaving him rubbing and holding his left eye.
A champagne cork can fly at up to 50mph (80kph) as it leaves a bottle and Girmay appeared deeply agitated as he was led into an ambulance and taken to hospital.
The cyclist had placed the bottle on the floor and bent over it as he undid the binding before the cork flew off hitting him from close range.
Girmay’s team said a decision would be made Wednesday morning on whether or not he would continue in the race.
The 22-year-old Eritrean had proven too strong for Dutch ace Mathieu van der Poel, who threw up his hands in resignation after a long struggle for the line at Jesi.
Van der Poel hugged Girmay at the line after giving him a sporting thumbs up while he watched his rival race to victory.
He now stands second in the sprint points race just three points behind Frenchman Arnaud Demare on 151, with Van der Poel third another 58pts behind.
Intermarche sports director Valerio Piva said the win was a landmark for cycling.
“This is a big moment, another continent arriving on the scene who will be important in the future,” he said.
‘Piece of history’
While multiple tour winner Chris Froome was born in Kenya and Daryl Impey of South Africa has won stages, Girmay is the first Black African to do so.
“I watched the Giro as a kid on television and then went out riding with the dream of one day taking part,” Girmay said, before his podium accident.
“We write a little piece of history every day,” he added.
“I’m really happy about what I did today, I don’t have the words to describe it. Thanks to my team who controlled the race from early on.”
Impey paid tribute to Girmay’s achievement in a post on Twitter: “What. A. Sprint. @GrmayeBiniam bossed that @giroditalia. Amazing for Eritrea and Africa again. He’s just getting started, it seems. Chapeau (Hats off)!”
Girmay, who rides for the Intermarche team, signalled his coming of age in March when he became the first African to win a one-day classic at Gent-Wevelgem, when still just 21.
He first shot to attention at the world championships when he became the first Black African man to feature on the podium when he came second in the under-23’s at the 2021 event in Belgium.
He has already racked up eight wins since turning professional in 2020.
Spain’s Juan Pedro Lopez of Trek retained the race lead as the main contenders in the overall standings all finished together.
Stage 10 left Pescara with a potential for a mass bunch sprint, but the pure sprinters such as Mark Cavendish and Caleb Ewan were dropped when the pace picked up in the hills.
Cavendish and Ewan have a better chance when Wednesday’s stage 11 takes a pancake flat 203km run to Reggio Emilia.