Q&A: Luke Plapp on signing with Ineos-Grenadiers and racing at the Olympics

The 20-year-old Australian will join Ineos Grenadiers from August 1.

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In early 2021, 20-year-old Australian Luke Plapp announced himself as a future star on the road. At the Santos Festival of Cycling in Adelaide – a scaled-down version of the COVID-hit Tour Down Under – Plapp rode to a terrific solo stage win, before finishing second behind teammate Richie Porte on the iconic Willunga Hill climb.

A couple weeks later, Plapp opted to skip the U23 races at the Australian Road Nationals, instead choosing to race in the elite category. He went out and won the elite time trial by more than 40 seconds, beating four-time national champion Luke Durbridge in the process.

Plapp’s golden summer attracted the attention of at least five WorldTour teams. Today, Ineos Grenadiers announced that they have signed Plapp, initially in a stagiaire role, which will become a full contract in 2022. Plapp is currently in Tokyo preparing for the Olympic team pursuit. CyclingTips caught up with him just after he arrived to talk about the significance of signing with Ineos, what he’s expecting, plus a little bit about the Tokyo Games.

How’s Tokyo?

Bloody hot and humid eh? Today has been the coolest day and it’s like … yeah it’s just so hot and humid.

It’s just being cool being around it. But we’re staying in our own hotel so we’re not anywhere near the [athletes’] village. We’re just doing our own thing as a track team, trying to stay as isolated as we can.

Is that just a COVID thing?

Yeah it is. It was the plan before the Games as well, before last year. It’s just always been our plan. We just wanted to be by ourselves. The village is 50 minutes from the track, so we wanted to be a lot closer so the travel wasn’t as far between racing. And I guess we can control all the food and it’s our own staff and we’re not mixing with other athletes.

How many guys did you bring over for the team pursuit?

We’ve got five of us and a travelling reserve. So six in total but [the sixth] can only race if literally we get COVID.

How do you choose the four-rider team from the five? How do you decide who’s going to be in a particular race?

We don’t know to be honest. We won’t know till probably the night before the race. Because we haven’t been on the track yet we’ll see how everyone’s come out of the taper and rides in the next week leading up to it.

I guess with the Games being like one ride over three days, if the qualifying team had a good ride, it’d be hard pressed to swap it out. You’re not going to get tired from a 20-minute warm up, 10-minute cool down, and three minutes of riding. So there’s potential just to keep the whole team throughout. I guess we’re lucky that we’re all so even. As a team we could just pick anyone. 

What will you guys be happy with out of the team pursuit next week?

I think if we didn’t win gold, we’d be walking away pretty bloody disappointed, to be honest. I mean, that’s why we’re here and that’s what we’ve been training for. We know Worlds in Berlin [where Australia finished fifth in the team pursuit – ed.] wasn’t a representation of who we are and where we were going towards and I think our training indicates that we’re on the right track. And if we didn’t win gold, I think we’d be walking away pretty disappointed.

So tell me about this contract you’ve signed. 

So I signed with Ineos[ Grenadiers]. So I’ll start there from August 1st. So obviously [Olympic] teams pursuit finishes on the fourth but as soon as the Games finish I’ll fly straight to [Tour de] L’Avenir and just race with the national team there and then when I’m back, it’s all systems go with Ineos.

I’ll target the Road Worlds, both TT and road race at the end of the year [Plapp will race in the U23 ranks – ed.], and jump in a few races and do some stagiaire [rides] in between.

You must be pretty excited about all that? 

Yeah. Look, it’s a dream come true to be with that team. I think ever since I’ve been growing up that’s sort of the team I wanted to go to. And even before I was getting results on the road, I think seeing what they’ve done with previous track and pursuit riders like [Bradley] Wiggins, G [Geraint Thomas], [Filippo] Ganna now as well, [Ethan] Hayter – they’ve got such a great track record of converting pursuiters and almost identical riders to what I am into Grand Tour riders from the beginning.

It’s not like they’ve poached them from other teams pretty much, they’ve built them up their own way. And you see Rohan [Dennis] there now as well – it’s the type of rider that works for them. They know how to train them and get the most out of them.

So I think it was quite an obvious choice for me in terms of performance. And I think in the last couple of years I’ve learnt how much tech makes a difference with the track programme and leading into the Olympics and I know that they’re the best in the business at that. 

So for me, [I’ll be] focussing on TTs for the next couple of years before hopefully going onto the Grand Tours – they’re obviously the leaders in that field. So it was quite obvious to go there for me, in that sense too. 

Do you see yourself combining road and track going forward, or will you do only road now?

If it was a four-year Olympic cycle, I honestly don’t know what I would have said. But with Comm[onwealth] Games next year and the [2024 Paris Olympic] Games only 18 months again after that, I will definitely combine track as well.

I’d love to race the TT in Paris and also dabble in the madison and potentially teams pursuit. I don’t want to rule that out at all. It’s only three years away so we’ll see how that goes. But yeah, I think the madison and TT would be the focus there.

You’re going to be a busy boy.

Yeah, I’d love to do the track at Commies [Commonwealth Games] and the World Championships every now and then and do like the mado [madison] and points races. I think we’re seeing so much now – we even saw with [Tom] Pidcock today, which is pretty unbelievable – if you cross over [from one discipline to another] you’ve got a secret weapon. We’ve seen it with Wout [van Aert], with [Mathieu] van der Poel, Hayter at the same time – he’s come in leaps and bounds this year. I think you can just learn so much and it gives you a little bit extra that those normal road riders don’t have. 

So when you join the team on August 1, is that with the team properly or are you as a stagiaire for the rest of the year?

As a stagiaire for the year just because the team’s got a full roster. It would have been from the start, from August 1, if they had a spot, but they’re completely filled as a roster so that wasn’t possible. 

And to be honest, I didn’t really want to race much anyway. L’Avenir was a good go with the national team and then I wanted to just focus fully on Worlds and with so much with the Olympics and L’Avenir I really don’t need any other racing in between that.

I don’t know how much stagiairing I’ll do – there’s a few races on the cards if I wanted to. But at the same time I’m not sure if I’ll do them in the lead-up to Worlds.

Plapp (left) after taking bronze in the U19 ITT at the 2018 Worlds. The winner that day: Remco Evenepoel.

Have they got you on a two- or three-year deal?

Three-year deal [starting January 1, 2022, after his stagiaire role – ed]. Good potential to go longer but nah, three years is where I was at.

Have they given you an indication of what sort of races they’d like you to do next year and what sort of role they see for you? 

Yeah. The other thing with that team was there was not a whole lot of pressure going into it. It’s not like I’m expected to go there and get results because they’ve got the boys for that.

But for me, it’d be focussing on those week tours with TTs in them. That’s the main goal for next year. Target those TTs in the week-long tours and see what happens in the rest of the tour.

Tirreno[-Adriatico] would be a good one if I got to race the TT at the end, but then there’s so many other tours where the TT’s at the start too. So it’ll just be learning my body, trying to manage myself through those sorts of races, and then working out how to perform in a TT when I could be a little bit fatigued.

And at the same time if the TT was at the start, if I had a good one, then it’s about working out how to hold onto a potential GC position. And at the same time it’s trying to have a good first week to then be in with a chance in the TT at the end. And that’ll just teach me how to race really well too.

But the main goal, and what they keep drilling into me, is just ‘learn the Grenadier way of racing’ and and ease into the WorldTour peloton. 

As you said, at some point you’d like to have a crack at the Grand Tours, but there’s no real rush for that, right?

No, not at all. But yeah, that’s where I’d love to end up and that’s what I’d love to be doing in the future. But yeah, I don’t think there’s a massive rush for that. And I think with me trying to still balance the TTs and a bit of track, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to turn around and do it next year like we’ve seen so many other young guys do at the moment.

I think with this team as well, there’s no pressure for me to turn up and get a result there straight away; I can sort of ease into it. And when I’m ready, I’m ready.

It’ll be good to have guys like Richie Porte there, who you know, to help you ease into the team and the environment, right?

To have a couple of Aussies who I’ve sort of grown up with along the journey will be quite special. And Richie will be able to take me under his wing in his final year, which I think, for me, will be really special to be able to ride in the same team as him in his final year as a pro.

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