Mathieu van der Poel entered World Championships week as one of the strongest contenders to win the rainbow jersey in the men’s road race. It would not be an easy path. A loaded Belgium squad stood in his way, a limp Tour de France hinted at tired legs, and the lingering back issue that was supposed to have ended his season has never truly been resolved. But MvdP has shown a stunning knack for winning the biggest races on the calendar even in less than ideal circumstances. He confirmed his (if not peak then at least) winning form at the GP Wallonie, then he flew to Australia at the head of an impressive Dutch team.
This could have been his year. It was not, as he abandoned the race early. He did so because he was arrested and charged with assault after two teenage girls kept ding-dong-ditching him.
Van der Poel’s plan was to get a ton of sleep before the race. “I went to bed early and many children in the hallway of my room found it necessary to knock on the door continuously,” he told Belgian outlet Sporza. “After a few times, I was done with it. I didn’t ask so nicely to stop.” That’s euphemistic language, but basically everyone who knows what happened and has commented on the incident has agreed that van der Poel went too far when dealing with the rude teens. “There were children in the corridor playing and he went out to ask them to stop, but obviously not in the right way,” Alpecin-Deceuninck boss Christoph Roodhooft said.
New South Wales police, however, were more specific in their statement. “It’s further alleged the man then pushed both teenagers, with one falling to the ground and the other being pushed into a wall, causing a minor graze to her elbow,” a spokesperson for the cops told the Guardian.
Van der Poel has denied that he pushed anyone. Still, aside from the severity of van der Poel’s confrontation with the teens, the basic layout of the facts is pretty extraordinary: Two rowdy teenagers were playing, as the Australians call it, Knock and Run or Nicky Nicky Nine Doors on the hotel room door of one of the best riders in the world, said elite rider got so mad he crossed some line in dealing with them, he was up all night at the police station, and he didn’t finish the race.
Whether or not he actually pushed the 13- and 14-year-old girls, van der Poel was arrested and charged with two counts of assault. His passport was seized by the Australian authorities and he has a court date this upcoming Tuesday.
Van der Poel was able to start the race despite getting back to his hotel room at 4 a.m., six hours before the start of the race. “It’s a disaster, but I can’t change anything anymore,” he said. “I’m trying to make the best of it. It is on little sleep that I will race, hopefully on adrenaline.” That adrenaline only lasted van der Poel 30 kilometers, as he abandoned with 230 kilometers of racing left in the day.
“We didn’t talk about the situation but sporting wise he was really disappointed,” Roodhoft said. “He didn’t sleep all night and mentally he was a bit broken. He was expecting a lot from today and he did everything he could in the last two months after his bad Tour de France. He found joy and happiness again in cycling and was hoping for a nice race again.”
Maybe he can find some solace in the level of dominance eventual winner Remco Evenepoel showed. I’m not sure anyone could have beaten the just-crowned Vuelta a España winner, who went solo with 25 kilometers remaining and smoked the field by over two minutes to win the rainbow stripes. The Belgian was animated throughout the decisive last 100 kilometers of the race, and he won through force and aggression that nobody could come close to equaling, even on a full night’s rest.