Dutch cycling superstar Mathieu van der Poel had an awkward start to his mountain bike season on Thursday.
The Corendon Circus rider was racing the time trial format prologue of the Belgian Mountainbike Challenge (BeMC) when, he told Het Nieuwsblad was forced to slow behind a tractor on course.
If it seems odd that a tractor held up a UCI-level stage race, it likely has something to do with van der Poel riding at a different time than the rest of the pros. The Dutch rider was granted an early start in order to make an appearance on the Gert Late Night talk show.
Even with the tractor run-in, van der Poel averaged 26.1 km/hr to finish the 18-kilometre prologue in 42 minutes 04 seconds. With the rest of the pro riders still hours from starting, van der Poel was confident it would not be enough for the win.
“Someone will certainly take two minutes off of my time,” he said after his race.
It would seem the multi-talented Dutch rider underestimated his effort, as he finished with the fastest time by 40 seconds at the end of the day. Hans Becking (DMT racing) was the closest rider to van der Poel, with Quinten Hermans (Telenet Fidea Lions) in third another 1:20 behind.
Ariane Lüthi (Kross Racing) leads the women’s race after the prologue. In a much tighter race than the mens, Geerte Hoeke (Cycling Team Limburg) and Cemile Trommer (Focus Rapiro Racing) are both just five seconds behind Lüthi. Van der Poel’s teammate Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado sits fourth.
BeMC is a four-day stage race in La Roche-en-Ardenne, billing itself as “the hardest race in Benelux.” Racers should be much more spread out over the next three days of racing, as stages range from 62 km all the way up to 95 km in length.
The tractor incident isn’t the only notable incident van der Poel has been involved in, even just this year. The Dutch star has a flair for the dramatic, though the exciting moments aren’t always intentional. At Amstel Gold this year, he pulled off one of the most impressive sprint finishes in years to end his spring road racing campaign with a win. That came shortly after a big crash at Tour of Flanders, where a broken front wheel and axle left him chasing back to the front group. On dirt, his massive jumps and whips on the cyclocross course always attract attention, though sometimes they go a little more sideways than planned.