Update, 17/03/23: Bianchi has now responded: click here for more
As the well-known cycling fan Oscar Wilde once said (I think), to break one set of handlebars during a race may be regarded as a misfortune; to break two looks like carelessness – or some questionable engineering, according to rampant speculation about why the incident occurred…
But that’s the cruel fate that befell Arkéa-Samsic’s Hugo Hofstetter at today’s chaotic edition of the Grand Prix de Denain, a French cobbled semi-classic featuring 23km of cobbled lanes and which acts as an amuse-bouche for next month’s main course of hellish roads, Paris-Roubaix.
The in-form Hofstetter, who went into today’s race as one of the big favourites, first hit the deck on a muddy section of cobbles with around 50km to go.
While the 29-year-old Frenchman was quick to jump to his feet, running along the grass verge to re-join the peloton, he soon realised that the handlebars of his Bianchi Oltre RC were snapped, the Shimano Dura-Ace shifters flailing in the wind.
That’s less than ideal…
After swapping his broken Bianchi for a spare, the unfortunate Hofstetter crashed again with 30km to go as the race split to pieces on the rough farm tracks of northern France.
That Hofstetter crashed twice during today’s race was not much of a surprise – the slick cobblestones led to a series of pileups throughout the day, and caused the following motorbike riders to come unstuck on a few occasions. AG2R Citroën’s Stan Dewulf even ended up, Biff from Back to the Future-style, in a pile of roadside manure after one particularly dramatic spill.
— Eurosport (@eurosport) March 16, 2023
What was unbelievable, however, was that flimsy handlebar lightning struck twice for Hofstetter as the Bianchi Oltre’s bars snapped once more, this time on the right-hand side, prompting the understandably frustrated Frenchman to shake his head and raise two fingers to the camera, before recording a dejected DNF.
— Eurosport (@eurosport) March 16, 2023
Meanwhile, Brian Smith, sitting in the GCN commentary box, sighed that the Arkéa-Samsic rider’s bar troubles were “not normal”.
Smith’s disbelief was, unsurprisingly, echoed on social media:
— Ömer Lütfü Aydoğan (@lutfu_aydogan) March 16, 2023
Unbelievable. Do not buy these bars. 2 crashes. Two breaks pic.twitter.com/K6ZweDlqxO
— Simon Warren (@100Climbs) March 16, 2023
This couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for Bianchi. Just as Hofstetter was shaking his head in frustration at his bike’s structural woes, Bianchi announced through a press release that its Oltre RC – the very machine the Arkéa-Samsic pro was riding (and breaking) today – was awarded the ‘Best Race Bike’ award at the 2023 CyclingWorld Europe Awards. Awkward…
The Oltre RC, the iconic Italian brand’s flagship aero bike, was unveiled last October, a month before Bianchi announced its return to the WorldTour with Arkéa-Samsic.
The striking bike features an integrated aero cockpit which is designed “to generate low-pressure air vortices directed towards the legs of the moving athlete through a centrally located hole” (and not, we presume, though dangling shifters).
While the bars proved a source of constant sorrow for Hofstetter, they held up pretty well for his British teammate Dan McLay, who won the bunch sprint for 12th while presumably pulling hard on his integrated cockpit.
Not that that will cheer up poor Hugo (who seems to be cursed when it comes to bike problems in the spring) too much, however…
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.