While his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Tim Merlier may have won the race, Mathieu van der Poel was unable to contest the finish of Tuesday's Le Samyn after suffering a broken handlebar in the final kilometres of the race.
The Dutchman had been active for much of the racing, attacking and chasing moves in the Walloon cobbled semi-Classic, but was forced to race final 1.5 kilometres with a section of his handlebar missing.
Van der Poel could be seen throwing a piece of material – likely the right drop – to the side of the road and was then seen racing the finale with the shifter hanging loose.
Unable to put his hands in the drops to contest a sprint to the line, he instead continued to push on and, when caught, worked at the head of the peloton in the closing kilometre with his hands gripping the inner-most section of the bar tops.
"I was still very good myself, but I couldn't put any power in because my handlebars broke off on that long cobblestone strip," Van der Poel said to the assembled Belgian media after the race, referring to the final section at Rue de Belle Vue, where he had attacked with Deceuninck-QuickStep's Florian Sénèchal.
"With that, I couldn't do my thing. That's why I immediately said that I would respond to everything and Merlier should focus on the sprint. I then did everything I could to paralyse the group and I'm very happy that Tim finished it off.
"It was a bit silly that I had to play 'jammer' at the front, but there was no other way. With a normal handlebar I would ride along, of course."
Alpecin-Fenix are racing on Canyon bikes, with Van der Poel using a light blue Aeroad CFR so far this season. The brand uses a multi-piece handlebar design in their top-of-the-range Aerocockpit models, with the bar splitting into three pieces for shipping, though the breaking point on Van der Poel's bars looks to be further down.
Van der Poel had earlier been on the attack to chase down a large leading group with 40 kilometres to go, later making a move with Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka Assos) before getting away with Sénèchal over the final cobbled section of the 205.4-kilometre race.
There has as yet been no clarification on the cause of the handlebar breakage, it's possible that a combination of a tightened shifter clamp and the rough cobblestones could have been at fault.
Van der Poel finished the race in 37th place, 16 seconds down. His next race will be Saturday's Strade Bianche, where he'll face off against long-time rival Wout van Aert.
Mathieu van der Poel a terminé le #samyn @GPSamyn avec un guidon cassé pic.twitter.com/MbCGKgl2mfMarch 2, 2021
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