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Australian rider's bars break and lead to crash in Olympic team pursuit qualifying

Alex Porter of Australia crashed at speed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Australia's hopes in the men's team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympic Games took a massive blow on Monday when Alex Porter crashed in qualifying after his handlebars appeared to snap clean off. The rider was luckily at the back of the team during the opening laps when the fall occurred, meaning that he did not take down any of his teammates but the fall was very much down to an equipment failure rather than athlete error.

The remaining three athletes on the team were quick to call for a re-start, which they technically have do to during the lap in which the incident occurs. It's not clear if Porter will ride during Australia's second attempt but he was able to quickly get back to his feet after the incident. In their second attempt, Australia raced to fifth with a time of  3:48.448.

"I guess sport is enertainment, hopefully that was entertaining," said performance director Simon Jones.

"Obviously there was a mechanical failure, we're not too sure what happened exactly. Obviously there was something wrong with the bars. When you land on your face at 65kmh and you've got half an hour to do that again, that's absolutely amazing, you talk about Australian fighting spirit, to get up and go again I'm almost speechless to be honest," he added.

"That's all there is to say. We did a pretty good time considering we crashed at a quick pace, the lads were at a good pace. We've still the bronze tomorrow, that's the key thing. The lads will come back, recover, settle down and we'll come back and go as quick as we can go. The doc checked him over and we don't have any immediate concerns. He slid on his face. He's not quite as pretty as he was before, he took a bit of skin off, took a bit of skin off his right arm, but he was lucky. Fortunately on the track you slide."

Australia won the team pursuit at the World Championship in 2019 and took silver in Rio and London Olympics behind Great Britain. They need to qualify in the top-four during the re-run in order to remain in contention for the medals.

Alex, 25, took gold at the  Commonwealth Games in the Team Pursuit with a World Record, but is a first time Olympian. In 2016 he took his first Team pursuit world title, delivered again in 2017 and 2019. 

Kelland O’Brien, Sam Welsford and Leigh Howard, the other members of the team in the race, were physically unaffected by the fall.

Event favourites, Denmark, had earlier set an Olympic record to lead the men’s team pursuit with a time of 3:45.014.

Team Australia's Argon 18 Pursuit bike

Team Australia's Argon 18 2020 Electron Pro pursuit bike (Image credit: Cycling Australia: Hikari Media)

What happened?

The Australian track teams are riding aboard the 2020 Electron Pro from the Canadian brand, Argon 18.

For the Team Pursuit, the bike is fitted with an integrated aero cockpit. This cockpit consists of a one-piece carbon fibre base bar complete with an integrated stem, and on top, custom moulded carbon fibre aero extensions are fitted using aero spacers. The break appears to have occurred halfway along the stem area of the integrated base bar, with a clean break at the junction just after the stem area meets the handlebar.

Team Australia's snapped handlebar

The base bar snapped at the stem-bar junction (Image credit: Eurosport)

There doesn't appear to be any obvious points where weakness could creep in, such as bolts that could have been inadvertently overtightened, but there is a cover that sits atop the stem, potentially allowing access to internal cabling if used on a bike with gears or brakes. The bike was unveiled in February of this year by Cycling Australia.

Team Australia's Argon 18 Pursuit bike

The cockpit design features a cover on the upper face of the stem area (Image credit: Cycling Australia: Hikari Media)

It was launched as a collaboration with Argon 18 and Zipp. At launch, Cycling Australia's release stated: "We have developed an integrated drop bar for bunch races, and sprint and custom extension bars for the team pursuit", however, it is unconfirmed which, if any, of the collaborating brands was tasked with manufacturing the cockpit. The cockpit itself features a small Argon 18 logo on the base bar, but that isn't necessarily proof of manufacture.  

Cycling Australia had also previously announced a partnership with Bastion for the manufacture of its cockpits, a company that specialises in 3D printing titanium. 

Despite the failure, the initial release claimed that it worked to standards far in excess of the required ISO requirements.

"We raised the maximum resistance up to 350kgf - more than 3x the load recommended for the BB by ISO test standards. We did the same thing for the cockpit, where we doubled the load compared to ISO standards for fatigue and ultimate strength testing," the press release added. However, it wasn't confirmed whether that strength testing applied to the custom extensions alone, or inclusive of the base bar.