This year at the UAE Tour Luke Plapp has had his first taste of life in a race leaders’ jersey and while world champion Remco Evenepoel may have moved swiftly to shift it off the Australian’s shoulders and onto his own instead, Plapp’s efforts to hold firm in second right through to the Jebel Hafeet finale marks a huge leap forward for the 22-year-old.
It was, after all, just a year ago that Plapp was lining up at the race with the key aim of trying to get a feel for how the WorldTour peloton worked and what his place within it may be, as in 2022 the event marked his international professional debut as an Ineos Grenadiers neo-pro.
“UAE was a really, really nice place to have my first ‘proper race you could say’. It just seemed to fit well, coming from Australia and coming from Road Nats and it was, I guess, probably the most relaxed WorldTour race you could ever start with,” Plapp told Cyclingnews while reflecting on the year that had been in January in Australia.
It’s not that first appearance at the UAE Tour was without its hurdles – Plapp missed the chance to deliver a strong performance in one of his areas of strength when he crashed his time trial bike in the warm up and therefore was forced to take to the course on a road bike. However, he bounced back to deliver a strong showing on Jebel Jais, finishing 20th on the stage even after a stream of attacks while working for his then team leader Adam Yates. Then he came fifth on the final summit finish on Jebel Hafeet, securing what ended up being the best WorldTour individual stage result of Plapp’s opening season.
Given that positive first experience at the UAE Tour, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that Plapp headed into the event in 2023 with a big target drawn around it. The rider outlined his plans at the start of the year as to ‘hit the ground running’ for the Australian summer – that clearly worked as he defended his Australian road title – and continue to build form toward the UAE Tour where he looked to ‘have a really good one’.
If anything he exceeded that aim.
There was no easing into the seven-stage race in the United Arab Emirates for Plapp, who stepped into a powerful position alongside Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) when the trio of overall contenders distanced their rivals by making it into the pivotal break that finished 51 seconds ahead of the peloton.
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