It’s been a bit of an open secret in Australian cycling circles for a while now, but it can now be confirmed that the prodigiously talented Lucas Plapp has secured a contract with INEOS Grenadiers.
He’s showcased his immense engine and determined persona on the National Road Series with domestic squad Inform TMX MAKE and in the Under 23s for the last few seasons, making it into a very competitive selection for the Aussie Olympics team pursuit squad.
It was however an eye-catching series of performances during the Santos Festival of Cycling (replacement event for the Tour Down Under) and the nationals where Plapp won the elite time trial as a 20-year-old that propelled Plapp to the attention of international teams. It was also rumoured that a phone call from Richie Porte to David Brailsford, team principal for INEOS Grenadiers, helped Plapp to signing with the premier WorldTour squad.
Australian Cycling Insider isn’t above following up some gossip and it was one of the questions I put to Plapp, speaking from the Tokyo Olympics.
“Yeah, Richie’s helped me out a lot through the whole process,” said Plapp, “and I think for me it’s going to make it even more special to be able to ride in the same team with him and his last year as a professional in the WorldTour.
“He definitely did play a massive part in that throughout all January and February. And he’s always been there to chat to and also guide me through his whole process of choosing the right team and where I wanted to end up. I’m bloody excited to be at the same team as him for next year and be able to hopefully do a few races with him before he signs off.”
Porte has said a few times now that 2022 will be his last season in the professional peloton, but there will be a strong Australian connection continuing with the team, with head coach Tim Kerrison in place, the sports scientist behind INEOS’ Tour de France wins, Eliud Kipochoge’s sub two-hour marathon and Tom Pidcock’s mountain bike gold medal.
“I haven’t spoken to Kerro yet,” said Plapp. “Yes, he’s got some pretty exceptional athletes. One of his athletes won the mountain bike gold medal, so he seems to be doing something right.
“But a lot of the focus for me has been the games. We sorted out the contract earlier so I could focus on the Olympics.”
That Olympics path has been the main focus in the 20-year-old’s young career, with Plapp crediting the Australian Cycling Team setup for providing him with the tools to deal with the step up to WorldTour racing.
“I think the opportunities that we’ve had here, I think being exposed to such high levels of racing with attracting sort of prepares you for the pressure that could come in the WorldTour,” said Plapp. “I think being such a part of such a high-performance unit here with cycling Australia, it’s going to be an identical set up at INEOS. I think it’s going to really help me thrive in that kind of environment.
“I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Having the exposure of the big races here and I’ve done quite a few blocks in Europe now already. I’m really comfortable and ready to go over there and I think that’s what I want to be doing for the next 10 to 15 years.”
Plapp will jet off immediately to Europe following the Olympics, set up briefly in Girona before heading off to race the Tour de l’Avenir. While Plapp might ride a few races for INEOS Grenadiers afterwards, the main focus from there will be building towards the Under 23 world championships in Flanders.
The decision to race Under 23s wasn’t an automatic one for Plapp, who opted to ride in the elite time trial and road race with Inform TMX MAKE to no small success at the Australian road nationals, winning the time trial, then looking the winner in the road race before he hit the wall in a long-range solo move.
“It was quite a big decision,” said Plapp, “sort of similar to when I was going through the road national’s decision. We weighed it up for quite awhile, I was sitting on it ever since road Nats pretty much, what I wanted to do.
“But if I wanted to race 23s next year in Wollongong at my home worlds you have to race 23s this year, you can’t go back and forth.
“I’m not sure what I’d like to race next year, but if I race 23s at least I’ve got that option. That’s honestly what I based my decision on.
“That’s a magical feeling, to win the world champs in your own country, there’s probably nothing more special than that.”
With the ability on display already, it’s tempting for Aussie fans to think that Plapp will follow in the mould of the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel, but the 20-year-old is hoping for a period of learning with the prestigious British team, and hopefully progressing in a matter similar to past track stars that transitioned to general classification stars in Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas.
He doesn’t have an extensive history in racing on the road compared to the likes of Pogačar, who was racing WorldTour riders since he was 18 at the Tour of Slovenia, a lack of experience that Plapp wants to remedy.
“To be honest I think I’ve just got to be over in Europe,” said Plapp when asked what he needs to work on the most to improve as a cyclist. “I haven’t really experienced proper cobble races, I haven’t really experienced many more mountains then what we’ve got in Victoria, Falls on Hotham.
“I think for me it’s really trying to experience that European circuit. Whether that is in the mountains are on the cobbles I think it’s going to be about finding my feet, what works for me, and just getting experience in peloton in big races that long and with that much climbing.
“That’s something that we don’t experience much here in Australia, and being part of the track team I haven’t had a whole load of exposure to either.”
Plapp is a very driven character and looks to be set up with a clear picture of what he wants to achieve over the next few seasons. If he can continue in the manner that we’ve seen him progress in his early years, a big if, but one that many in Australia are more confident about with his personality and attention to detail.
By Jamie Finch-Penninger