Opinion: Give Canyon a break, mechanical failures are part of the sport

Mathieu van der Poel's broken Canyon Aeroad handlebar set the internet alight, but mechanical issues are nothing new, and new technology always comes with new problems

The sight of Mathieu van der Poel leading out his Alpecin-Fenix team-mate Tim Merlier at Le Samyn this week became an inadvertent internet sensation when it was noticed the reason the cyclo-cross world champion was riding clutching the tops was due to his handlebars snapping off where his right brake lever would normally be found.

The unflappable MvdP merely crossed the line punching the air in celebration, having assisted Merlier to the win. No sweat, just another day at the races, mission accomplished.

Web commentators and clueless trolls, as is often the way, immediately went into nuclear meltdown, with opinions seemingly split between “the mechanic over tightened the clamp” and “I’m never buying a Canyon”.

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Mathieu van der Poel's snapped handlebar became an internet sensation (Photo: LB/RBCor Vos)

On the first point, how do these self-appointed engineering experts know? Were they leaning over the mechanic’s shoulder, mental torque wrench in hand, tut-tutting as the bolt was tightened, whispering “you don’t want to do it like that, mate?”

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then no knowledge is even worse. If you don’t actually know, keep it zipped until you do, and stop dissing someone whose job it is to assemble pro riders’ bikes. Show some respect.

On the second point, I’m reminded of when a Rouleur social media follower gets upset because we have featured someone they dislike – usually Lance Armstrong, to be fair. “I’m cancelling my subscription!” they froth. We check, honestly, and invariably they are not actually subscribers.

Well done, you. Made your point. Now go away.

The upshot of all this hoo-ha was Canyon issuing notice that owners of certain Aeroad models fitted with the same cockpit as Van der Poel should stop using their bikes until analysis and testing of the failed bars was completed. Canyon-sponsored teams were also instructed to switch to other models.

The detachable CP0018 handlebars on the Canyon Aeroad have been the subject of a 'Stop Ride' notice from Canyon

This damage limitation exercise seems, to my mind, totally out of proportion to the unfortunate breakage that occurred during the finale of Le Samyn. While the underlying thinking behind the German company’s statement is understandable, why should the breakage of one rider’s carbon bars besmirch the reputation of an entire brand?

Equipment failure in sport is a fact of life. It’s nothing new.

Interviewing Magnus Backstedt many years ago, I asked the 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner if he regretted his choice of deep section carbon wheels for the race four years later. It was the early days of using such exotic materials for such a demanding race, and something of a leap into the unknown. Big Maggy acquired that nickname for a reason. The wheels disintegrated beneath him on the punishing pavé of the Arenberg forest. “Not for a second,” Magnus replied. “It was a risk worth taking.”

Were carbon wheels banned from Paris-Roubaix? Not that we’re aware of...

Racing mountain bikes and cyclo-cross in the 1990s, I witnessed several fellow racers suffer unfortunate – and rather painful – snappages from their new-fangled carbon seatposts. I made a mental note to stick with the heavier but more reliable alloy versions when it came to contact points, at least until the technology had caught up with the bright idea.

But that’s a purely personal choice. If others wish to push the envelope and be early adopters, crack on. Otherwise, we’d all still be racing on steel-framed heavyweights with downtube shifters and toeclips.

I’ve no horse in this race. There is no Canyon in my shed currently. But I’d not lay into them either, based on one racing incident that has been amplified out of all proportion and resulted in reputational damage for one of the biggest equipment suppliers in the pro peloton.

In summary, and no pun intended, give them a break, eh?

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