ZINAL, Switzerland (VN) – He’s keen, a little too eager by his own admission, but Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) continues to build on his promising WorldTour career.
After notable rides at the UAE Tour and Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, the young Australian put in arguably his best climbing performance so far with 12th on the mountain stage to Zinal at the Tour de Romandie.
It wasn’t just the result but the performance that stood out with Plapp covering Ineos Grenadiers’ back after Geraint Thomas was dropped with around 10km to go on the slog to Zinal. Although there was a strong headwind in the final Plapp put in a series of accelerations before Sergio Higuita (Bora Hansgrohe) came from nowhere to take the stage win.
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Higuita has been in the WorldTour for several seasons now and his experience paid off. He didn’t move into the wind until launching his late sprint, while Plapp – as strong as he was – admitted that his timing cost him. Regardless, it was still another stepping stone for the 21-year-old neo-pro who rose 13 places to fifth overall.
With an individual time trial to come on Sunday, Plapp has a fighting chance of making the final podium.
“It was a tough day and it was on the pedals all day,” Plapp told VeloNews as he warmed down outside the Ineos Grenadiers team bus.
“A good group went up the road and we were really happy as a team. The wind picked up which was really unexpected, it almost changed completely from what we expected at the start. It was a strong headwind, it limited what you could do and it was basically suicide if you went up the road.”
It’s a battling performance from @LucasPlapp who animates the final kilometre with repeated attacks from the lead group 👏
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) April 30, 2022
Plapp brushed off the suggestion that his role changed once Thomas began to slip from the group of favorites with just under 10km to go in the stage. The Australian certainly didn’t hold back when he hit the front for the first time with around 600m to go. That move strung the remnants of the field out, and even when he was kept in check the youngster had another dig with the line almost in sight.
“We were just there to do what we could and with that headwind, we just had to sit on the wheels. I had a dig with 250m to go but with the headwind, I wasn’t going anywhere and they mowed me down pretty quickly. In hindsight, I probably should have waited until the very end but I was keen, and I saw a chance and wanted to take it. It’s all learning. I actually thought that we were going to have a proper GC battle on the climb but the headwind changed that. I thought it would be split and that we’d be coming in ones and twos. The wind just neutralized it.”
Plapp is still finding his feet at this level but the Ineos management is becoming increasingly impressed with both his level of performance, as well as his progress on and off the bike. Perhaps of greatest importance is the fact that he seems to get over minor setbacks incredibly quickly.
In range of first WorldTour GC podium
Up next is the final uphill time trial to Villars.
Plapp is 30 seconds down on race leader Rohan Dennis but only 12 seconds away from a possible podium in a WorldTour stage race. There are quality riders ahead of him but the Australian certainly doesn’t give the impression of being intimidated by the situation.
“It was nice to be able to climb like that after struggling at Catalunya. We’re all in for tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. Rohan is a class above here though. I can’t complain though. I’m fifth overall. There are 30 seconds to make up tomorrow and I’ll give it what I can. I love my time trials, it’s not a typical one but we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
“We’ll see how we go. I’m still getting used to these long stage races. I’m pretty fatigued after every day. It’s almost a lottery with how it’s going to back up. In my head today I thought that I’d either be there or be 20 minutes back. We’ll just see what happens tomorrow.”