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Giro d'Italia makes podium ceremony changes after Girmay cork injury

REGGIO EMILIA ITALY MAY 18 Juan Pedro Lpez of Spain and Team Trek Segafredo Pink Leader Jersey celebrates at podium with Astoria Champagne during the 105th Giro dItalia 2022 Stage 11 a 203km stage from Santarcangelo di Romagna to Reggio Emilia Giro WorldTour on May 18 2022 in Reggio Emilia Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Juan Pedro Lopez gets ready to spray a bottle of uncorked fizz after stage 11 (Image credit: Getty Images)

The organisers of the Giro d'Italia told Cyclingnews on Wednesday morning they were considering changes to the post-stage podium ceremony after Biniam Girmay was forced to abandon the race when a flying cork damaged his left eye.

Later in the day, following the sprint finish of stage 11, changes were indeed enforced, with the podium sparkling wine uncorked in advance in order to avoid a repeat accident. 

Girmay won stage 10 to Jesi, making history as the first Black African to win a stage in a Grand Tour, but just minutes later, as he leant down to pick up the magnum of Italian spumante to celebrate on the podium, the cork exploded from the bottle and hit him in the eye. He suffered a haemorrhage to the anterior chamber of his left eye and did not start stage 11.  

Celebrations with champagne or spumante have been a long tradition at bike races and other sporting events but Girmay's injury sparked widespread calls to scrap the moment of celebration or at least protect the riders.

"We're considering what we can do to avoid anything similar," Giro d'Italia Director Mauro Vegni told Cyclingnews before Wednesday's stage to Reggio Emilia.

"An injury like that hasn't happened for years," he added. 

"Mathieu van Poel experienced something similar in Hungary but that was when he shook the bottle. Everyone could see that Biniam Girmay was quite emotional after he'd won and wanted to celebrate after winning the stage. He leant over the bottle and the cork came out at exactly the same time.

"We'll look at how we can improve things and make them safer, without affecting the rider's moment of celebration on the podium, the sponsors and the sport."

Those improvements came instantly. After the finish of stage 11, the winner Alberto Dainese emerged onto the podium where a magnum of spumante was waiting for him with the cork already positioned on top of the bottle.

He did not have to unwrap the metal casing but just had to remove the cork that had been lodged back in. Understandably wary, he carefully placed his thumb over the cork before lifting it and spraying it into the air. 

A little later, race leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) emerged onto the podium for the pink jersey presentation. There was not even a cork in his bottle, which was fully open already and required a good shake to get the fizz going.

The change comes after a string of near-misses at this Giro led to the hit on Girmay that took him out of the race just after such a historic achievement.  

As Vegni pointed out, Van der Poel himself popped a cork into his shoulder after beating Girmay to victory on the opening day. After his rival's accident, the Dutchman suggested action should be taken. 

"I saw it afterwards. I had the same on the first day but luckily it didn’t go in my eye," Van der Poel said. "I think the organisation must maybe take the cork out a bit already, or something like that, because it comes out really easily. It’s actually a little dangerous. That’s not the way you want to leave the Giro."

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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.