Dutch cyclist Mathieu van der Poel, who was the favourite going into the UCI Road World Championships elite men’s road race in Wollongong, Australia was arrested and charged with common assault on Saturday night following an incident at his hotel.
He started the race on Sunday morning but retired after less than an hour of racing. Belgian Remco Evenepoel went on to win the title to cap a brilliant season.
Van der Poel is understood to have gone to sleep early ahead of the race, the biggest one-day event on the annual cycling calendar, only to be repeatedly woken by two teenage girls knocking on his door at the hotel in Brighton-Le-Sands, in Sydney’s south.
A spokesperson for New South Wales police told Guardian Australia that late on Saturday night, an unidentified 27-year-old man was allegedly involved in a verbal altercation at the hotel.
“It’s further alleged the man then pushed both teenagers, with one falling to the ground and the other being pushed into a wall, causing a minor graze to her elbow,” the spokesperson said.
“Hotel management were notified of the incident, who then called police. Officers from St George police area command attended and arrested a 27-year-old man shortly after.”
The individual, understood to be Van der Poel, was taken to Kogarah police station and charged with two counts of common assault. He was granted conditional bail and is due to appear on Tuesday at the Sutherland local court.
The incident was first reported by Sporza, the Belgian public broadcaster.
“I went to bed early and many children in the hallway of my room found it necessary to knock on the door continuously,” Van der Poel told Sporza.
Van der Poel said he returned to his hotel room at 4am on Sunday morning. The race began at 10.15am.
“That’s certainly not ideal,” he said. “It’s a disaster but I can’t change anything any more. I’m trying to make the best of it.
“It is on little sleep that I will race, hopefully on adrenaline. It was certainly not fun. It is what it is, I have to deal with it.”
Despite only sleeping for a few hours, Van der Poel took to the start line and began the 266.9km race.
Before the disruption, the four-time cyclo-cross world champion and 2013 road race junior world champion was ranked among the favourites to win the rainbow jersey. But he retired from the race at about 11am.
Evenepoel continued his magnificent season with a solo breakaway to win the road race title, adding the rainbow jersey to his triumphs in the Vuelta a Espana and the Liege–Bastogne–Liege classic.
Two weeks after giving Belgium its first Grand Tour champion in 44 years at the Vuelta, the 22-year-old rider gave his country its first world road race champion in a decade.
Evenepoel rode the last 25km of the 266.9km race on his own, crossing the line at the beach in the centre of the Australian coastal city of Wollongong in six hours, 16 minutes and eight seconds. – Guardian