Mathieu van der Poel was forced to sit up in the final of Le Samyn 2021 as his handlebars snapped, taking him out of the sprint finish.
The Dutch national champion looked to be favourite to take the victory from a reduced bunch sprint in the Belgian one-day race, as the leading riders entered the pivotal final kilometres.
But as Alpecin-Fenix rider Van der Poel hit the front of the bunch on the final straight, TV images revealed that the handlebars of his Canyon bike had snapped near the brake hood, forcing him to abandon his own chance at the sprint.
Despite the mechanical, the cyclocross world champion maintained his position on the front of the group, holding onto the tops of the bars as he set a pace for his team-mate Tim Merlier, who came through to take the victory.
Van der Poel sat up from the front group with around 500 metres left to race, slipping back as the 40-rider group went to the line.
In his post-race interview, Tim Merlier revealed more details of what happened: “Mathieu really wanted to try in the end, but then he said he had a mechanical so he would give his all for me.
“We decided this only in the last cobble sector. He said on the radio he couldn’t sprint because his handlebar was broken.”
It’s not clear exactly where on the tough cobbled course Van der Poel’s handlebars broke, but it appears to have happened right in the final few kilometres, as the 26-year-old formed part of a five-rider attack inside the final 3km, with his right handlebar hood starting to show signs of damage.
Then as the attack was reeled back just inside 2km, Van der Poel’s bars were visibly damaged as he could be seen talking to his team on the radio.
Van der Poel then rolled across the line outside of the top-10.