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Giro d'Italia

Biniam Girmay not the only rider to struggle with high-flying corks at the Giro d’Italia

Mathieu van der Poel was also struck on the face with a cork after winning stage 1: ‘It's quite dangerous.’

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Biniam Girmay won’t be celebrating his historical Giro d’Italia stage victory on the roads Wednesday after a freak podium accident involving an exploding cork from a bottle of spumante sent him home.

Yet it’s not the first time riders in the 2022 Giro are struggling with the big bottles of sparkling wine that are handed to the stage-winners and category-leaders on each day’s podium.

Other riders from Mathieu van der Poel, Koen Bouwman, and Juan Pedro López have all struggled to open the bottles and barely avoided the exploding corks.

“I had the same thing on the first day,” Van der Poel said at the start. “I think the organizers should take the cork out a little bit already, because it comes out very easily. It’s actually quite dangerous, and it’s not the way you want to leave the Giro.”

Van der Poel suffered a similar incident after winning the opening stage.

Like Girmay, he placed the bottle on the ground to finally wiggle out the cork, only to see it explode upward. Luckily for Van der Poel, the cork struck his shoulder and then ricocheted and struck his chin.

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Many pointed out the cruel luck for Girmay to survive crashes, high-speed descents, and dangerous roads only to be forced out of the Giro due to an exploding cork.

Giro boss Mauro Vegni told reporters at the start of Wednesday’s stage that the Giro is hopeful for a full recovery for Girmay following what he said was a “strange” incident.

“There is a lot of emotion because something very strange happened to the winner,” Vegni said. “The Giro will miss a lot by losing a rider like him, but right now, we are thinking more about him than the Giro. What he did was historical not only in the Giro but in all of cycling.

“It happened all very fast. The moment that he grabbed the bottle, he did it with so much enthusiasm, and he leaned over the bottle and perhaps because it was warm, we do not know, and the way that he opened the bottle, the cork struck him in the eye,” Vegni said. “It’s an unfortunate incident that we’ll have to consider in the future.”

There was no immediate word if Giro officials were considering changing the bottles or perhaps partially opening them before passing up the bottles to the podium ceremony.

Doctors confirm eye injury for Biniam Girmay after freak podium accident. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, team doctors confirmed that Girmay did not start after he suffered a hemorrhage in his left eye from the force of the impact from the cork.

A 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 a 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, AFP reported.

Yet these riders are familiar with opening bottles of sparkling wine on the winner’s podium across their careers.

Is there something different about what’s happening at the Giro? Riders pointed out a few details.

Riders told VeloNews the larger-sized magnum bottles used during the Giro are particularly heavy, weighing several kilos, meaning that it’s difficult to hold the bottle up while trying to twist off the cork.

“I don’t grab champagne bottles very often and certainly not many of these three-liter ones, but they’re heavier than people think,” said James Knox (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). “It’s not a normal bottle of wine. It weighs around 8 kilos. So people lean over them to unwrap it and it’s so fizzy that it just fires off.”

Other riders pointed out that the wine bottles are warm, meaning that the sparkling wine is even more agitated than when served cold.

“It’s the third or fourth rider it’s happened to,” Aimé De Gendt said at the start. “It happens because of the heat of the champagne bottle and the pressure is too high. When you are on the podium you are not thinking about getting a cork in the eye. It’s a shame.”

De Gendt, who is Girmay’s teammate at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, said the team celebrated with some sparkling wine when Girmay returned to the hospital but took extra care opening the bottle.

“It was happy and sad at the same time,” De Gendt said. “We shared some sparkling wine with the team, but it was not with the same emotion as normal because of what happened to Girmay.”

Sadhbh O’Shea and Peter Cossins contributed to this report.

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