Mathieu van der Poel has revealed his handlebars broke on a long cobblestone sector in the final kilometres of Le Samyn 2021.
Van der Poel looked to be the favourite heading into the final kilometres of the Belgian one-day race, as a reduced bunch stormed across the cobbles towards the finish after 200km of racing.
But as Van der Poel emerged at the front of the group on the final straight, TV images revealed the handlebars of his Canyon bike had snapped near the brake hood, leaving him unable to sprint for the finish.
After setting the pace into the final kilometre, Van der Poel sat up 500 metres from the line as his team-mate Tim Merlier came through with a sensational sprint to take the win.
As reported by cycling website Wielerflits, the Alpecin-Fenix rider said after the finish: “I was still very good myself, but I couldn’t put in any force because my steering handlebars on that long cobblestone strip.
“In the last lap I jumped on everything and [Merlier] had to focus on the sprint. We then got away with a fairly dangerous group. It was actually silly that I had to play blocker there but I had no other choice. If my handlebars were normal, of course I would have ridden along.”
Van der Poel’s bars appear to have broken 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 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 rolled across the line in 37th place, 15 seconds down on the winner.
Despite the misfortune, Van der Poel says he is “satisfied” as he leaves Belgium for Italy to compete in Strade Bianche this weekend.
He said: “The shape is good. Especially compared to last year, when I went to Strade Bianche, the difference is very big. I am fresher, and I have also been able to experience the cyclocross form, that also helps.”