'I thought I'd already lost the race': Mathieu van der Poel impresses in Flanders after fighting back from crash

Dutch champion was able to fight back for fourth place in his Tour of Flanders debut after crashing with 30km to go

Mathieu van der Poel at the 2019 Tour of Flanders (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Mathieu van der Poel considers himself lucky because he thought he had lost the Tour of Flanders with a spectacular crash mid-race.

The Dutch champion finished an eventual fourth in Oudenaarde, his debut ride in the Monument. His chase back on after the crash was considered the ride of the race along with Alberto Bettiol's (EF Education First) winning move. Van der Poel had somersaulted over his bars when his wheel broke and covered 30 kilometres, at times solo, to rejoin the lead group.

"I had a really good day I think, otherwise you can't come back in a crucial moment like that," he said. "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 favourites, I'm really happy about that."

Heading to the second climb of the famous Oude Kwaremont, van der Poel hopped to get over some traffic furniture. Soon after as he slowed for a new bike, his broken wheel gave way.

"I was really lucky," he explained. "I didn't have the space any more to pass [on the pavement], then my wheel broke, 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. My wheel broke because I hit the pavement quite bad."

Those watching seemed impressed first with his chase back after such a crash and then his charge to the front of the group on the Oude Kwaremont climb and the Paterberg climb. Then, on the last time up the Paterberg, he led the star riders with past winners Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) over the top.

"No," he said if fourth place given his ride was essentially a victory for him. "I think victory is something else, but I'll be back and I hope to raise my hands here one time."

The 24-year-old has won the cyclocross world title twice, including this winter, and made his debut in the big one-day Classics this spring. Adding to that, he is riding in one of the few professional continental teams in this Tour of Flanders.

Van der Poel had already placed fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem and won Dwars door Vlaanderen in the last week, so a good day was somewhat expected for him.

"I didn't even know that Bettiol was gone so... I wasn't sure," he added. "I heard the team car saying the gap was 30 seconds, but I didn't know if it was in front or our group to the following group, but I'm most impressed by second time Kwaremont when I was chasing to get back. I never heard the crowd like this before."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.