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Primoz Roglic enters the Giro d’Italia as perhaps the most well-rounded rider in the bunch. He can soar in the high mountains, blaze a lighting-fast time trial, and even win sprints from small groups.
Roglic has another weapon that he plans to unleash on the Giro’s other GC favorites: Belgian wunderkind Laurens De Plus. Just 23, De Plus is himself already a versatile rider who be Roglic’s key lieutenant in the Giro’s high mountains.
Earlier this year De Plus helped shepherd Roglic to overall victories at Tirreno-Adriatico and the UAE Tour. At the latter race, De Plus pulled the entire WorldTour peloton along on flat and hilly terrain. He also whittled down the front group on the ascent of the country’s biggest climb, 6,345-foot Jebel Jais.
“I took a big step this winter. This is the first winter I could train for normal because of the bad luck I had last year,” De Plus told VeloNews at the UAE Tour. “I feel great, and you can see that we didn’t go to the training camp on Tenerife and stay at the top of the mountain for nothing.”
Like the sport’s other cadre of grand tour domestiques, De Plus often flies under the radar. He’s hardly a household name amongst casual cycling fans. Yet, his short career has produced more dramatic moments than that of riders a decade his senior.
Fans may recognize De Plus from his dramatic crash at the 2017 version of Il Lombardia. De Plus rode in the day’s breakaway on the hilly, winding Italian classic, and misjudged a corner on the twisting descent from Sormano. Television cameras filmed him skid across the road, hit a guardrail, and then disappear into a deep ravine.
Miraculously De Plus escaped without serious injuries.
De Plus’s next scary moment occurred in January 2018. During a training camp outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, De Plus and teammate Petr Vakoc were struck from behind by a truck. Bob Jungels, who was also riding with the men, was OK.
Vakoc suffered the worst injuries, and underwent surgery to stabilize fractures in his vertebrae. De Plus suffered a fractured pelvis and other internal injuries, and spent nearly a week in the hospital.
De Plus said he initially thought his cycling career was over in the wake of the crash. The emotional fallout from the crash and the injury stayed with him for much of the season.
“It was a really hard period for me. Emotionally, it was not just feeling like a training accident because somebody could have died,” De Plus said. “It was bad for Peter, and he stayed in the hospital for 10 days. I was in South Africa and on the other side of the world.”
De Plus spent much of the early season recovering from the crash. He returned to racing in May, however he required months to get back to his top form. He raced the Vuelta a España as a domestique for Quick-Step’s rising Spanish star Enric Mas, but otherwise completed the year without any top results.
De Plus said the crash helped refocus him on his cycling career.
“It clicked mentally, like maybe I am more adult now,” he said. “I changed a bit, actually.”
He moved to the Dutch team in the off-season, and spent the winter logging long miles. He showed up at the UAE Tour and immediately showed that he was one of the strongest in the field.
And that could pay dividends at the Giro d’Italia. De Plus will likely be one of the final domestiques to ride alongside Roglic on the Giro’s mountainous days. He slots into a small group of the race’s top climbing domestiques, alongside Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Merida), and Sam Oomen (Sunweb).
De Plus says he’s up for the challenge of working for Roglic.
“I’m in a good way now. Maybe it’s also good for my mind that this all happened,” De Plus said. “Your pro career is maybe 15 years, and you need to work for every bit. And you need to enjoy it.”