Mathieu Van der Poel oriented his entire season around winning Olympic gold. The crown prince of cycling even left Tour de France early, after he’d put his stamp on it, so he could prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. Because he’s the most accomplished all-around rider in the world, Van der Poel left to try and win gold in an entirely different discipline: mountain biking. Van der Poel started Sunday’s cross country race as the favorite of a stacked field, but he crashed spectacularly on the first lap while navigating the circuit’s first technical challenge: a big drop off a rock.
As you can see from the clip, MVDP slowed and dipped his front wheel into what turned out to be empty air. He had expected something to be there: Van der Poel noted after the race that there had been a wooden ramp covering the drop throughout practice, a ramp which he planned to roll down. (Organizers put the ramp back for the women’s race, because it took place during a storm.) He showed proof of the ramp, too:
MVDP somehow stayed in the race for a few more laps and moved up toward the front, but he eventually had to retire due to the pain. Thankfully, he suffered no serious injuries. British youngster (and fellow do-it-all rider) Tom Pidcock motored to a solo win so dominant that he had time to snatch a British flag and cross the line holding it aloft. As for MVDP, well, the crash was his responsibility, but he can blame organizers for some confusion around whether or not the plank would be in place for the race. Van der Poel’s teammate Milan Vader said after the race that he talked to his teammate about the drop beforehand.
“It may be hard to say, but we talked about that during lunch today,” Vader said. “Mathieu said, ‘Gosh everyone jumps there.’ I asked: ‘Won’t you, then?’ He said, ‘No, I’ll roll off that plank,’ Then I said that they had removed that board at the test event in 2019 for the competition.” Even his own coach said he should have known about the ramp situation. Poor guy. Between Van der Poel’s crash and the women’s road race whoopsie, the Dutch cycling stars have had a rough Olympics. Less recognizable team members have hardly fared better: