Mathieu van der Poel’s gold medal dreams ended in a high-profile crash and confusion Monday over a wooden ramp used in training that was removed ahead of Monday’s mountain bike race at the Olympic Games.
The Dutch superstar crashed heavily in the opening lap on a meter-high-plus rock jump called the Sakura Drop.
Van der Poel appeared to misjudge the jump and somersaulted over his bike, and later abandoned the race with injuries.
Van der Poel later wrote in a Twitter post that he believed a ramp that was positioned on the jump during training would still be there during the race.
That ramp was removed before competition, and riders one after another vaulted over the meter-plus drop in spectacular fashion. Van der Poel evidently thought the ramp would still be in place, and he said that was why he misjudged the drop and crashed heavily.
“I was not aware; that plank [ramp] was there during the reconnaissance,” van der Poel wrote on Twitter. “No, I didn’t know anything. In the hospital for [X-rays] at the moment. Too much trouble to finish.”
Van der Poel seemed to be the only rider who misjudged the drop among the top favorites. While details remain uncertain of how the decision was communicated to riders, a wooden ramp was deployed during training so riders could ride down the big drop without catching air to better judge their line.
Dutch national team officials said athletes were aware the ramp would be removed ahead of the race.
“In training there was a bridge to prevent falls. That is normal, just like it is normal for them to remove it before the race,” national coach Gerben de Knegt told Dutch media. “We’ve discussed this a dozen times at the time, so Mathieu knew that.”
Mentioned that the pre-event favourite, Mathieu Van der Poel crashed & didn’t finish as Tom Pidcock took gold. Turns out the Dutch star didn’t know a ramp that was there in training had been removed for competition. https://t.co/xaHKMOOUn0
— Rob Hatch (@robhatchtv) July 26, 2021
While other riders hit the drop correctly, the Dutch star went over his front wheel, and crashed hard on rocks. Clutching his side, he struggled to remount the bike, but pushed on to salvage something out of his race.
However, van der Poel was already nearly a minute behind the leaders, including three-time defending champion Nino Schurter and eventual winner Tom Pidcock.
Wat. Een. Plaat. pic.twitter.com/EcQUZVyWtC
— Thijs Zonneveld (@thijszonneveld) July 26, 2021
While the Dutchman gradually climbed the placings, he could not make any ground on those at the front, and he would eventually climb off at well over a minute behind the leaders.
It was a disappointing end and a rare misfire for van der Poel, who had gone into the event as one of the major favorites. The Dutch superstar pulled out of the Tour de France after wearing the yellow jersey for nearly a week to prepare specifically for the Olympic Games.
There were no immediate details on van der Poel’s condition.
Van der Poel’s fellow multi-discipline star later Pidcock romped to victory some 20 seconds over Mathias Flueckiger, while Milan Vader was the best placed of the Dutch team in 10th.
— Mihai Simion (@faustocoppi60) July 26, 2021