ALTO DEL PIORNAL, Spain (VN) – Luke Plapp is suffering with a smile on his face in his grand tour debut.
Eighteen stages deep into a rookie Vuelta a España, Australia’s big-motored “big thing” has gone deep trying to deliver Ineos Grenadiers a top GC spot with Carlos Rodríguez.
“I’m pretty buckled – I’m counting down the days that’s for sure. I’m just trying to see Madrid and the light at the end of the tunnel,” Plapp told VeloNews on Thursday morning.
“I’m feeling the fatigue but loving every minute of it. And I think this experience, a grand tour debut, I think it will make me so much better for the years to come.”
Plapp, 21, bounded into his first full WorldTour season with aplomb.
GC top-10s at Tour de Romandie and Tour of Norway confirmed the promise from when he dominated the junior ranks at home in west Australia.
After earning his grand tour debut in support of Ineos’ Vuelta trident of Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Pavel Sivakov, Plapp instead found himself putting the pain aside for Rodríguez.
The Spaniard powered through the second week to sit fourth and in touching distance of the podium.
“Carlos is a pleasure to ride for, a pleasure to work with and he’s got a bit of a quiet confidence about him and he’s still really enjoying it,” Plapp said Thursday morning.
“We’re still in the hunt for the podium which makes turning up every day worth it, and hopefully we can get him there.”
Riding grand tour form into home worlds
Rodríguez’s heavy crash in stage 18 on Thursday may put a handbrake on Ineos Grenadiers’ podium dreams at this Vuelta.
But no matter what the result for Rodríguez in four days’ time, Plapp’s first three-weeker serves as a handy training camp for his home worlds later in the month.
Plapp will step up a level in Wollongong to ride for the elites. He finished a close second in the U23 time trial last year but will face an all-new playing field later this month.
As the sole holder of Australia’s TT hopes in the absence of Rohan Dennis, Plapp warned fans to not get too hyped for him just yet.
“I hope this grand tour form can carry to worlds for the road race for sure … the TT will be a bit of a lottery,” he said.
“Flying halfway across the world, jet lag, and then showing up two days later trying to ride a TT bike after not riding it for a month, that will be interesting. I’ve not spent much time on the time trial bike, and I don’t know how I come out of a grand tour.
“I think Remco [Evenepoel] will be flying, and we’re seeing that now. I think Filippo Ganna will have a great one too.”
Riding a home worlds can give a rider wings.
Sports-mad fans are set to put on a Tour Down Under-style show for an Australian team that in contention for road race gold with Michael Matthews.
“I just want to soak up the atmosphere,” Plapp said. “It’s the first time I think we’ve had so many people from the road pros wanting to do it, it was a real hotly contested team to get into and that’s testament to what’s happening back home, it’s a big sport and everyone wants to be part of it.
“We’ve got a pretty amazing group there and we’re really looking forward to making something happen with Bling.”