This Cyclist Wanted to Win the World Championships. But First He Needed to Poop.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Van der Poel, 28, attacked out of a breakaway group in the final 20 miles of the 168-mile race in Glasgow, Scotland, to win the elite men’s event on Sunday, August 6, and claim the coveted rainbow jersey—the prize given to winners of pro cycling’s biggest one-day race. After the race, media focused on the disaster that nearly derailed van der Poel’s winning ride. He had crashed with a few miles to go, and the pileup left him with a tattered cycling shoe. But van der Poel was able to remount his bicycle and preserve his lead all the way to the finish.
It turns out that van der Poel had overcome an even more dire situation earlier in the event. Van der Poel had to poop—bad. The urge hit him with 119 miles to go. At that point in the race, all of the cyclists were brought to a halt by protestors on the road—the delay lasted nearly an hour. With no port-o-potties near the group, van der Poel had to find another way to relieve himself.
“I had to knock on the door of a couple’s house along the course,” van der Poel told Dutch TV on Wednesday. “I really owe them and I would like to thank them so much. I couldn’t have carried on racing without their help. It was the biggest race of my life and it was so kind of these people to let me in their house and let me sit on their toilet.”
Pro cycling has a long history of bizarre mid-race bathroom breaks. Road races are so long and grueling that cyclists often must stop to do their business. Oftentimes, the peloton will pull over to the side of the road for a quick mid-race pee stop. These breaks can be strategic
Other stops are more urgent. American great Greg LeMond famously suffered gastrointestinal distress during the 1986 Tour de France and had to defecate into a teammate’s cycling cap (LeMone went on to win the yellow jersey). And contemporary cycling fans likely remember the plight of another Dutch cyclist, Tom Dumoulin, during the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
As the group of favorites approached the feared Passo Umbrail on the Italy-Switzerland border, cameras caught sight of Dumoulin abruptly slow down, jump off of his bicycle, and sprint into a nearby pasture. It turns out the Dutch racer was also battling a stomach bug and needed to relieve himself immediately.
The bathroom break slowed Dumoulin, but he, too, was able to bounce back. He won the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
The Dutch superstar was lucky to be able to shake off a crash late to win Sunday’s enthralling and brutal elite men’s road race in Glasgow, but his lucky stars lined up even more so earlier in the race.
“It’s unbelievable, I’m now the first Dutch world champion in 38 years,” van der Poel said about his own harrowing mid-race stop. “It was a crazy day. But I have to go back to the middle of the race for the most important part.”
Scottish media tracked down the fans who let van der Poel use the potty pages. The Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid, ran a full-page front-page photo, with the headline that read, “Thank poo very much.”
Van der Poel wasn’t the only person to use the potty. Apparently, the entire Dutch team felt a call of nature during stop for the protests.
The man who allowed van der Poel to use his bathroom, David Findlay, recounted the bizarre scene to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. He told the newspaper that the peloton stopped in front of his home for the protests, and shortly thereafter a Dutch coach approached him asking if a rider could use the toilet.
“We did feel that it was a bit of an emergency because the team manager came first and asked if we could let one rider use the facilities, who I now take to be Mathieu van der Poel,” Findlay said. “He was such a nice guy and extremely polite and he was so grateful. The next thing we knew there was another rider and then another and I think we had four of the guys from the Netherlands in.”
Findlay told Scottish newspaper Daily Record that he was simply showing the riders good hospitality. “Any of the neighbors would have done the same thing,” he said. “It’s all a bit surreal to be honest, as we’re aware of what a massive race it was and the incident with the protesters made our home a real focal point in world news for an hour or so.”
The moral of the story seems to be: “You gotta go when you need to go.” The potty stop undoubtedly helped van der Poel in the race. When he crossed the finish line several hours later, he became the first Dutch man to win the elite world championship road race since 1985.