Biniam Girmay captured an historic victory at the Giro d'Italia as the first Black African rider to win a stage at a Grand Tour on Tuesday in Jesi. However, the celebrations abruptly ended after he injured his eye on the podium.
It has been reported that a cork from the post-race celebratory podium champagne bottle hit Girmay and injured his left eye.
Giro d'Italia race organisers RCS Sport confirmed to Cyclingnews that Girmay was assessed by both team and race doctors about 15 minutes after incident, and it was decided to bring him to hospital for additional medical checks.
"After the ceremony, Girmay could no longer see," team doctor Piet Daneels told Sporza (opens in new tab). "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."
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux later confirmed to RCS Sport that Girmay has returned to the team's hotel after a medical check and is resting. The team will make a decision on whether he continues in the morning ahead of stage 11 in Santarcangelo di Romagna.
"At the moment it is better. He looks back. But to decide whether he starts tomorrow, that will have to take another night," said Daneels.
"As it stands now, I don't think there is permanent damage, but we have to wait and see. There will be a new evaluation tomorrow, but we will be careful with this incident."
Speaking with De Wereld Vandaag on Radio 1, and reported in Sporza, University ophthalmologist Carina Koppen said cork injuries are common and can cause serious injuries to the eye.
"It is a classic. When you're on call as an ophthalmologist during the holidays, you know that this is one of the most common accidents. A cork can cause a very strong blow to the eyeball, which can cause bleeding or bruising of the tissue. That can cause temporary injuries, but also permanent damage to the eye. If you're unlucky, the eye can even tear, after which surgery has to be performed. And that's not nothing."
Asked if, in her medical opinion, Girmay could continue racing on Wednesday, Koppen said, "It is difficult to make statements. Even if the injuries heal well and if he doesn't suffer any permanent damage, his vision may still be very limited. Perhaps he cannot see anything from the affected eye or if he lacks depth perception, then Girmay cannot continue racing."
Girmay claimed the first Grand Tour stage victory of his own career – and the first in history for an Eritrean - as he beat Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in the sprint to the finish line on stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia.
His victory in Jesi comes off another historical win at Gent-Wevelgem in March. At the Giro d'Italia, Girmay finished second to Van der Poel in the opening stage and went on to claiming four more top-five placings before taking the victory on stage 10.
He is also sitting in second place in the maglia ciclamino point classification just behind Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).
"Until I start the Giro we had the possibility to win, to make good results, so this is also part of the success of our team, my family, everybody. I'm really grateful and happy about what I did," Girmay said after winning the stage in an interview just before the podium presentation.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.