Less than one week ago, Mathieu van der Poel turned around a mid-race crash to take the road world championship title. On Saturday, the Dutch star again hit the deck. This time, there would be no wonder comeback.
Van der Poel crashed on the short start loop in the men’s XCO course before the first full lap. After moving up through the field from fifth row to the top 20 quickly, the Dutch racer slid out in the loose dirt before the finish line straight. It is the same corner where Tom Pidcock and Luca Schwarzbauer collided earlier in the week during the elite men’s short track cross country race, also resulting in a crash.
While the fall looked innocuous, van der Poel was slow to get up. The Dutch racer sat up but did not move off the course. As the rest of the racers rolled by, he then lay back down as medical staff came out to assist.
Cameras showed van der Poel exiting the race, rolling off the course with scrapes to his chin and cheek from hitting the dirt.
A small crash with big consequences
The crash ends van der Poel’s run at winning two major world championship titles in one week. But it could have bigger implications for his Olympic ambitions. World championships is an important step in qualifying for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris. Van der Poel needed to earn a spot on the Dutch team but also to help the Dutch federation earn enough spots in the limited Olympic start list.
With van der Poel exiting world championships before the end of the first lap, his Olympic ambitions are now in doubt. The path to Paris is, at the very least, much more complicated for the accomplished Dutchman.
If this crash does end his hopes of making it to the start line in Paris, it will be the second time a crash has stopped van der Poel from achieving Olympic mountain bike glory. In Tokyo in 2021, van der Poel was dueling with Tom Pidcock before he crashed heavily on a sizable drop. That crash also forced van der Poel to exit the race. The effects of that crash lingered with the star rider for months.
A start that matters
Van der Poel’s crash wasn’t the only crash on the start loop in Saturday’s elite men’s race. After the UCI effectively said start grid position was of little significance, so it didn’t matter that they were bumping van der Poel, Pidcock and Sagan up the grid, there was a big crash in the first corner that held up several racers. That was shortly before van der Poel went down on his own, thankfully not…