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Biniam Girmay takes Giro d’Italia stage in win for African cycling, withdraws after cork injury

Biniam Girmay Cork

Team Wanty’s Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay Hailu reacts after popping a champagne cork as he celebrates on the podium after winning the 10th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2022 cycling race, 196 kilometers between Pescara and Jesi, central Italy, on May 17, 2022. - History-maker Biniam Girmay pulled out of the Giro d’Italia before the start of the 11th stage, with an eye injury he suffered when he was struck by a champagne cork. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP) (Photo by LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

JESI, Italy — It’s been a season of firsts for Biniam Girmay, and the Eritrean rider added a stage victory in the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday in his first Grand Tour to raise the profile of African cycling. Soon after, an accident with a prosecco cork while celebrating his historic win forced him to pull out of the race.

The Eritrean rider became the first Black African to win a stage at a Grand Tour when he beat Mathieu van der Poel in the sprint to the line in Jesi in the 10th stage on Tuesday. But he had to be taken to a local hospital after getting injured when he popped a prosecco cork into his eye during the podium celebration.

The 22-year-old Girmay celebrated with his Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux teammates when he returned from the hospital.

“When I arrived after the hospital, the bad moment, I enjoy a bit with my teammates, the staff, everybody,” Girmay said in a video on his team’s social media channel. “I’m also happy now. I was a bit sad about what happened with the champagne but when I come back to the hotel they were super happy also.

“They were a bit afraid but when I looked OK we really enjoyed. But today luckily I didn’t start the race because still my eyes, I need some rest to give more power to the eye … I’m OK now, see you soon.”

Girmay started his sprint early, and Van der Poel pulled even with him at one point. Then Girmay stepped up the pace, and Van der Poel — realizing he had no answer — flashed a thumbs up toward Girmay before the pair crossed the line. The Dutchman was also the first rider to give Girmay a congratulatory hug.

Girmay, who rides for the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux team, completed the stage in slightly more than 4 ½ hours. Van der Poel and Vincenzo Albanese crossed second and third, respectively, both with the same time as Girmay.

In March, Girmay became the first rider from a sub-Saharan country to win a single-day classic at the Gent-Wevelgem race.

Spanish rider Juan Pedro López of the Trek-Segafredo team maintained his 12-second lead over João Almeida in the overall standings as the three-week Giro approached the half-way stage. Romain Bardet is 14 seconds back.

The Giro ends May 29 in Verona.

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