Well, that’s one way to slow Mathieu van der Poel down.
Van der Poel, the prohibitive favorite to win Tuesday’s Le Samyn race in Belgium, saw his chances at victory thwarted by a shattered handlebar, which he suffered during the thrilling finale of the 205.4-kilometer race.
Images of van der Poel riding into the final kilometer of the race showed his right Shimano shifter dangling from the top bar of his broken drop handlebars. After taking a mighty pull on the front Van der Poel slowly drifted to the rear of the charging group as it sped to the line. Van der Poel’s teammate Tim Merlier won the race in a thrilling come-from-behind sprint.
After the race, images appeared online showing the broken handlebar.
“I was still very good myself, but I couldn’t put in any more force because my [handlebar] broke on that long cobblestone strip,” van der Poel told reporters after the race. “That is why I immediately said in my ear that we were going to ride for Tim Merlier. I did everything I could to paralyze the group and I am very happy that Tim finishes it.”
— Seba Close (@SebaClose) March 2, 2021
The mechanical calamity happened at perhaps the worst possible moment for van der Poel. The Dutch champion rumbled into the finale kilometers of the cobbled semi classic in perfect position — with 3.5km to go he attacked out of the diminished peloton alongside Florian Sénéchal of Deceuninck-Quick-Step on the final section of cobblestones.
The two were eventually joined by Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) and two other riders, but with 2.3km to go van der Poel appeared to still be in a perfect position to win.
Nice and calm…throw your broken handlebar away 😳 pic.twitter.com/Bw6WbPf8fg
— Brian Smith (@BriSmithy) March 2, 2021
Van der Poel said that the break occurred during the cobbled section. After the riders hit the pavement it became evident that something was wrong with the Dutch champion, as he stopped pulling through. Overhead shots of the race showed van der Poel chase down an attack by Sénéchal with 2km remaining and then abruptly sit up. With 1.6km to go, cameras showed van der Poel toss a piece of the broken drop handlebar to the side of the road.
“In the last lap I jumped on everything and [Merlier] had to focus on the sprint,” van der Poel said. “We then broke away with a fairly dangerous group. It was actually silly that I had to play jammer there, but I had no other choice. If my handlebars are normal, I will of course ride along.”
The hesitation thwarted the group’s momentum, and van der Poel and his breakaway companions were quickly caught by the charging peloton.
Not to be outdone, van der Poel then sped to the front of the peloton and rode a long lead out, his left shifter awkwardly dangling from the shattered handlebar. Van der Poel unleashed the mighty effort while palming the top of the handlebar with his hands. In the end, that effort bore fruit, as van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix teammate Tim Merlier made a late charge to win the sprint.
The broken handlebar is the newest line item that we can add to the very short list of things that will keep Mathieu van der Poel from winning a bicycle race.