OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) considered himself “really lucky” to survive a horrific crash in the crucial moments of Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
However, he wasn’t content to hop into the team car and nurse his wounds. Instead, the world cyclocross champion delivered perhaps the most entertaining ride of the race, chasing back to the group by the top of the Koppenberg and sprinting to fourth place alongside the like of former Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), who was third, and world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who was eighth.
Van der Poel crashed with 60km remaining in the 266km race. He appeared to suffer a mechanical problem as the peloton sped through a town. The Dutch champion pulled to the side of the road and appeared unsteady on his bicycle. Suddenly, he somersaulted over his handlebars and onto the tarmac.
Van der Poel sprawled on the pavement and held his arm. One of his Corendon-Circus teammates looked on with concern. Uninjured, he was able to return to the race.
“I was really lucky,” said van der Poel.
The 24-year-old said that a tight squeeze around and over traffic furniture caught him out. At some point, he attempted to bunny-hop a planter, struck his front wheel, and broke it. At the finish, his right side showed dirt marks where he crashed on his back and national champion’s jersey.
“I didn’t have the space anymore to pass [on the pavement], then my wheel broke,” he said. “It was really high speeds so I was lucky it didn’t break in the first moments and I could carry on a little bit, but just before I wanted to stop it broke completely, and I went down. No [it wasn’t a puncture]. My wheel broke because I hit the pavement quite bad.”
After the impact, van der Poel began a 30-kilometer chase, at times solo, to rejoin the group. Once he returned to the group of favorites, he charged to the front, and animated the action.
Van der Poel made a huge surge up the Kruisberg to draw out some of the pre-race favorites. He followed moves on the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, and over the last climb, the Paterberg, he led the group behind winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) over the top.
“I had a really good day I think, otherwise you can’t come back in a crucial moment like that. I had to chase by myself. I think on that moment I had the feeling I already lost the race. To come back and to come first on the top of Paterberg with all the favorites, I’m really happy about that,” he said.
“I didn’t even know that Bettiol was gone so … I thought I wasn’t sure… I heard the team car saying the gap was 30 seconds but I didn’t know if it was in front of our group to the following group, but I’m most impressed by the second time Kwaremont when I was chasing to get back. I never heard the crowd like this before.”
The ride impressed everyone. Some thought it was even better than Bettiol’s winning ride, but van der Poel, riding in his first Tour of Flanders, wanted more.
“I think victory is something else, but I’ll be back and I hope to raise my hands here one time.”