GLASGOW, SCOTLAND: Mathieu van der Poel crashed while leading the road race at the world championships, breaking his shoe and tearing his jersey, yet the Dutch cyclist maintained his poise, quickly remounted and pulled away for a remarkable victory Sunday.
Van der Poel had been riding with two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, one-day specialist Wout van Aert and Mads Pedersen, a former world champion. They pulled back Alberto Bettiol’s solo breakaway, then van der Poel headed off on his own, flying through the rain and over the wet roads to victory in downtown Glasgow, Scotland.
“It was one of the biggest goals I had left, and to win it today is amazing,” he said. “I almost completed my career, in my opinion, so for me it’s maybe the biggest victory on the road. I cannot imagine yet riding in the rainbow (jersey) for the next year.”
That includes the Paris Olympics, where van der Poel will be among the favorites next summer.
Not even a mistake Sunday, when Van der Poel slid his bike into a barrier on a tight right-hand turn, could stop him. By the time he reached the finish line, the grandson of Raymond Poulidor had accomplished what the French icon never did — he finished on the podium four times at the world championships but never on the top step.
Van Aert, one of the pre-race favorites, pulled away down the final stretch to take the silver medal for Belgium, and Pogačar beat Pedersen in a head-to-head sprint by less than the length of his front tire to claim bronze for Slovenia.
It was an impressive performance by PogaCar, who won a series of one-day races early in the year before breaking a wrist in a crash at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He returned in time to make a run at a third Tour de France title, but despite winning two stages, he could not keep up with Jonas Vingegaard over the last week and finished second for the second straight year.
The men’s road race Sunday was halted for about 45 minutes early in the 271-kilometer run from Edinburgh to Glasgow when a group of environmental protesters refused to leave the road. Riders sat in team cars, and even chatted with UCI president David Lappartient, while officials near the Scottish town of Falkirk arrested five people.
The route took riders across the Firth of Forth and through some hills north of Glasgow, but there was never enough elevation to break apart the peloton. The early breakaway was brought back well before the riders reached Scotland’s largest city, setting up a dramatic 10 laps over a highly technical 14.3-kilometer circuit through the downtown area.
A select group of 16 riders, which included Neilson Powless of the US and defending champion Remco Evenepoel of Belgium, began to fracture with about 30 kilometers to go. Ultimately, a quartet of the world’s best riders decided it was up to them to pull Bettiol back, and van der Poel joined Pedersen, Pogačar and van Aert on the attack.
On a short, steep ramp, van der Poel kicked free of the group, only for disaster to nearly strike.
The five-time cyclocross world champion was about 30 seconds ahead of the star-studded trio when he tried to navigate one of the 90-degree turns in the rain. Van der Poel’s bike slid out from under him, and the 28-year-old Tour de France and Giro d’Italia stage winner ended up against a metal barrier, his jersey torn and the buckle on his right shoe broken.
“I was not taking risks. Not at all, actually,” van der Poel said. “I don’t know. In this corner, all of a sudden I was on the ground. ... It’s not that I was taking risks, in my opinion. I just had to stay on the bike.”
Van der Poel quickly got back on it, losing just a handful of seconds, and began to pull away again — all while fidgeting with his right shoe, trying to get it tight enough to allow him to make a normal pedal stroke.
The winner of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix simply kept going, though. He crossed the finish line more than a minute ahead of his closest pursuer, throwing his skinned arms in the air in celebration of the Netherlands’ first title in 38 years.
“When I saw that nobody was following,” van der Poel said with a smile, “it gave me wings.”
In other world championships Sunday:
• Italian endurance star Filippo Ganna narrowly defeated Daniel Bigham of Britain for the men’s individual pursuit title, and fellow Italian Jonathan Milan beat Ivo Oliveira in the bronze medal race.
• Henrique Avancini of Brazil won his second men’s mountain bike marathon title ahead of Martin Stosek of the Czech Republic and Lukas Baum of Germany, and Mona Mitterwallner of Austria regained her women’s title by holding off Candice Lill of South Africa and Adelheid Morath of Germany.
• Lotte Kopecky of Belgium won her second straight elimination race title ahead of silver medalist Valentine Fortin of France and bronze medalist Jennifer Valente, the new scratch race world champion from the US
• Ellesse Andrews of New Zealand held off fast-finishing Martha Bayona of Colombia to win the keirin title while defending champion Lea Friedrich of Germany took the bronze medal.
• IUri LeitAo of Portugal won the multidiscipline omnium thanks to victories in the scratch and tempo races and a second-place finish in the elimination race, while France’s Benjamin Thomas won the final sprint of the points race to take silver and Shunsuke Imamora of Japan edged Denmark’s Niklas Larsen by two points for bronze.