Dutch cycling star Mathieu van der Poel was in prime form and a favourite to win the elite men’s road race at the cycling world championships in Australia.
But one small detail changed everything for the 27-year-old.
Instead of heading back to the Netherlands with the coveted rainbow jersey, van der Poel was arrested, pulled out of the race and landed back on home soil with a conviction and a three-year ban from Australia.
More than 200 million cycling fans had tuned in to watch the major event unfold, with fans devastated when the favourite pulled out just 45 minutes into the 267km road race.
Here’s what caused van der Poel to forfeit his chance at the championship and what has happened since.
On the evening before last Sunday’s race, van der Poel went to bed early to get a full night’s rest.
But his sleep was quickly interrupted by teenage girls staying in a room opposite him who were playing a game of “knock and run” at the Novotel Brighton Resort in Sydney’s south.
The girls, aged just 13 and 14, were staying in room 920 and knocked on random doors throughout the ninth floor of the beachfront hotel.
They knocked on the cyclist’s door, room 930, multiple times at 10.40pm and ran back into their room. Their antics “frustrated” van der Poel, as he had the race the following morning.
Police facts reveal van der Poel’s girlfriend Roxanne Bertels told the girls to stop their game after they repeatedly knocked on the cyclist’s door.
When the knocking continued, the 27-year-old laid in wait for the girls and chased them into their hotel room before launching a terrifying assault.
In the days following the attack, the father of the two sisters involved shared a video online that his 12-year-old daughter took of her sister preparing to knock on van der Poel’s door.
In the footage, the girl screams and runs into her hotel room as the 27-year-old cyclist follows close behind.
One of the sisters runs into the corner of the room and crouches down while covering her face.
Moments later, van der Poel corners her and pulls her by the arms until she falls and grazes her elbow.
The clip ends with van der Poel standing over one of the girls while she cowers in the corner of the room.
According to police facts, the cyclist ran up to her and grabbed her by both arms, squeezing them and pushing her against a wall while yelling at her, causing her to suffer a minor carpet burn graze to her right elbow and redness to her left forearm.
Van der Poel noticed the second girl trying to leave the room and pushed her against a wall using both hands, according to the police fact sheet.
The girl fell to the ground before van der Poel went back to his hotel room.
The father also shared a photo with NCA NewsWire showing his daughter’s carpet burn.
Minutes later, police were called to the hotel by the girls’ parents.
The 27-year-old made admissions to following the girls into their hotel room and yelling at them.
He was arrested and taken to Kogarah police station where he was formally charged.
Van der Poel told police he was “quite frustrated” the girls continued to make noise and knock on the door despite his girlfriend asking them to stop.
The cyclist admitted his actions were wrong.
NSW Police took van der Poel’s passport and issued a court attendance notice to face Sutherland Local Court.
Since the incident took place, the Netherlands team has been investigating why van der Poel was sleeping on a different floor of the hotel to his teammates.
National coach Koos Moerenhout told local media that van der Poel was given another room because he had a cold when he arrived in Australia.
Rather than sleeping on a different floor filled with his fellow teammates, the 27-year-old chose to stay in room 930 with his partner until the road race.
If he had been sleeping on the same floor as his teammates, the incident may not have happened.
Ahead of the race, van der Poel told Belgian website Sporza that he “didn’t ask nicely” for the girls to stop knocking on his door.
“I wasn’t back in my room until 4 o’clock,” he said on Sunday morning.
“That’s certainly not ideal. It’s a disaster, but I can’t change anything anymore.”
The Dutch star returned to his hotel room at 4am last Sunday and was a favourite to win the 267km race when it kicked off at 10.15am.
Minutes into the race, it was revealed that van der Poel had only had a few hours sleep after spending most of the night at a police station.
Fans were left scratching their heads before finding out the professional cyclist had been hit with two criminal charges.
Despite many saying he was in “prime form” and looking good to win the race, van der Poel pulled out after just 45 minutes.
He blamed fatigue for the move, shocking competitors and fans.
After van der Poel withdrew, team Alpecin-Deceuninck boss Christoph Roodhooft told reporters that van der Poel was mentally shattered following the ordeal.
“He didn’t sleep all night and was mentally a bit broken as well,” Roodhooft said.
“He was expecting a lot of this day (race) and did all he could in the last two months after his bad Tour de France.
“He had found joy and happiness again in cycling and was hoping to have a nice race today.”
Van der Poel appeared at Sutherland Local Court the day after the race and pleaded guilty to two counts of common assault before magistrate Hugh Donnelly.
He was convicted and ordered to pay $1500 in fines.
Due to his conviction, van der Poel cannot enter Australia for three years.
The cyclist did not talk to media outside the court.
Outside court, his lawyer Michael Bowe told media: “Many of us would do the same. Under pressure to perform, everyone makes mistakes,” Mr Bowe said.
“His partner was in tears and he himself was very disappointed with the result. He told me that he feels like he has disappointed his country and his team.”
The 27-year-old immediately travelled to Sydney airport and boarded a flight back to the Netherlands.
While he refused to talk to media in Australia, once he landed home van der Poel spoke to local media when he landed at Brussels airport on Tuesday afternoon.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I have never hurt anyone,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws.
“There are a lot of stories about pushing, but that is absolutely not true.
“That’s not what happened. There are two versions of a story and when you are in Australia it is very difficult to deal with.”
Van der Poel said he was “sorry” and “wrong”.
“I admit that honestly,” the cyclist said.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have done it differently. Unfortunately, it did happen and I’m trying to put it behind me and look ahead to what’s to come.”
He said he should have informed the hotel’s front desk about the girls’ behaviour rather than take matters into his own hands.
“It was just getting late and I wanted to sleep,” he said.
“I thought I‘d fix it myself, which ended up being completely wrong. Unfortunately, I can’t change it anymore.”
Van der Poel’s team released a statement on Monday evening.
The statement said the team had “taken note” of the events that took place over the weekend in Australia.
“Needless to mention everyone loses here, and we can only regret that,” the statement said.
“Initially, our focus was on providing legal assistance on site and on helping Mathieu van der Poel to return home quickly. Now that has happened, we want to get a clear picture of the course of events through inspection of the complete file (we don’t have the court documents yet) and a conversation with Mathieu van der Poel and those involved at Team NL.
“Based on this, we will determine which further steps to take.
“We would like to emphasise that respect for others, inside and outside the peloton, is and always has been a core value of Alpecin-Deceuninck. That is why we want to follow up on this in an appropriate way. Only then will team Alpecin-Deceuninck and Mathieu van der Poel communicate about this again.”
The girls’ father said his daughters were shaken by what happened and van der Poel didn’t need to “charge at them”.
“Their mother heard them scream next door,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“They saw this long lanky bastard walk out of their daughter’s room near naked … the girls are tiny and he’s massive.”
He said his partner was “terrified” and didn’t know what to do.
“She’d never seen anything like it,” he said.
As soon as the mother notified the hotel, staff immediately called police without talking to the cyclist.
The father said his partner and daughters had no idea who van der Poel was.
“My older daughter that copped it … she’s usually an adrenaline junkie, the centre of attention. She’s really quiet at the moment,” he said.
“I think she’s a little scared and still not realising what happened.
“I told her you’re lucky this guy is famous because anyone else – you don’t know what could’ve happened.”
He said felt for van der Poel after he had to forfeit the race but conceded “that’s life” and he should have handled the situation differently.
“Those charges aren’t light, but I hope the girls learned a lesson,” the dad said.
“There’s so many avenues he could have taken.”