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Vuelta a Espana

Luke Plapp: Vuelta a España is a different sport compared to the last 10 years of my life

'I’m just taking it one day at a time and if I can make it to Madrid that would feel like an awesome achievement,' says grand tour debutant.

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Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) is nine stages into his maiden grand tour at the Vuelta a España and despite never having raced more than a week-long event the 21-year-old neo-pro is taking it all in his stride as he looks to support his teammates and use the experience to build for his future.

Plapp has enjoyed a breakout season at Ineos Grenadiers. Making his WorldTour debut in 2022, he has shone throughout the campaign with strong performances at the UAE Tour and the Tour de Romandie.

A podium in May’s Tour of Norway and a national time trial championships back in January have acted as major stepping stones for the young Australian but the Vuelta a España has proved a major test of both his form and his resolve as an athlete. Until this week he had never raced more than seven straight days in a row.

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“In the last two years I’ve had about 40 race days and 30 of them have come from this year, so I’m almost doubling that in the next three weeks. I can definitely feel it, it’s a different level,” he told VeloNews during the Vuelta’s second rest day.

“Being able to do this now is just going to set me up so well for the next few years. It’s shocked me what the level has been like but at least I know what to expect next year and can prepare it a little bit better,” he added.

“It’s a difficult one because usually it’s one that I’d like to target and I did have my eye on it for quite a while but being my first grand tour it’s taken a toll on my body and I’m pretty cooked. I’m soaking up today’s rest day as much as possible and I think I’ll be doing the same tomorrow and just trying to get through it so I can help the boys in the second and third weeks.

“It’s just been about backing it up after the seven days. That’s not something my body is used to doing. Romandie was the longest race I’ve ever done and we’re two days past that and with two weeks still to go. It’s been about building up the fatigue in the body and then being able to push through that. I wouldn’t say that the level or power is any different to Romandie or Catalunya but it’s just about doing that after a week in the legs.”

Plapp has spent the Vuelta working for his teammates. He supported Ethan Hayter in the sprints and then turned his attention to setting up high-flying Carlos Rodriguez in the mountains. The Spaniard currently sits fourth in the overall standings, and like Plapp and two other Ineos riders, he is making his grand tour debut at the Vuelta too.

According to Plapp, there’s a real sense of camaraderie within the Ineos camp and not just between the young riders, but the squad as a whole. That sense of team spirit has helped the Australian through some difficult times during the opening nine days of racing.

“It’s almost a different sport compared to the last 10 years of my life, comparing cycling to a grand tour. I’m just going to try and get through it and then try and help the guys as much as I can later on in the race. I don’t have the climbing legs that I would have liked but I can do what I can for them,” Plapp said.

“Even though we’re not all debutants the morale is still super high. Even Carlos or Ethan, it’s their third year in the peloton, so it’s not like they are brand new to it. So it’s nice to be able to draw experience from them but at the same time look at each other and just be shocked by the fatigue levels that we have after each day.

“It’s pretty special to be seeing Carlos doing so well. I get a great boost coming to the finish 20 minutes after they’ve finished to hear that he’s fourth on GC. We’re not speaking about podiums but we’re coming down to his home roads and I think that he’s super motivated. He’s quiet but he’s got confidence about himself. Once he gets through the TT I think he’s really going to shine. We’ve all got confidence in him.”

With 11 stages still to race, including Tuesday’s 30.9km time trial to Alicante, Plapp isn’t looking too far ahead as he ventures further into the longest race of his life. When asked about his hopes of reaching the finish line in Madrid in a fortnight’s time, he replied: “I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what’s going on in two days, mate.”

“I’m just taking it one day at a time and if I can make it to Madrid that would feel like an awesome achievement. I think I’ll come out of it a much better rider if I do but it’s just one day at a time because by the time I get to the hotel each night I’m pretty shattered just lying down in bed.”