April 28, 2021
Luke Plapp of Inform TM Insight MAKE was the star of the Australian cycling summer, emerging as the next big thing in the sport with a stage win and a top climbing performance on par with Richie Porte at the Santos Festival of Cycling and then going on to win the Australian national time trial championships ahead of four-time national champion Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange).
Plapp fielded calls from international teams and was featured in global cycling media with the spotlight on the Victorian 20-year-old as he dazzled in late January and early February. That was set to continue at the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool but a COVID-19 outbreak forced the race to be rescheduled to May 1. Plapp will be joined by fellow Olympic-bound riders (pending selection) Kelland O’Brien, Sam Welsford and Leigh Howard.
“That was the end of the road block and we got back onto the track to do some rehearsals and trial some last things before the games,” said Plapp. “Since then for me, it has died down a bit, I guess we haven’t had the focus of the major races. There’s no TDU or nationals which was a big focus for me in trying to set up my career for the next few years after the Olympics.
“At the moment, we’re doing the country carnivals, but it’s not the same as preparing for the TDU or road nats (Australian national championships).”
Racing handicaps and country carnivals is the unlikely preparation for the bright lights of the Tokyo Olympics, from mainly having the eyes of uninterested cattle to the rapt attention of Australia and the world following Plapp and the rest of the Australian track team as they fight for gold. Racing long events on the road, culminating in the 267-kilometre Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool might seem counterintuitive as the riders prepare for the 4-kilometre flat-out effort of the team pursuit, but it’s all part of a grand strategy.
“For us, we can’t start out a full-gas track prep too early on,” said Plapp. “You’re not burnt out as much, and you might get there too early and just be trying to hold onto the speed. So for us it’s about building that base and the races help and give us that focus and that goal even on the road. That’s been good for us.
“We’ve had such a big block on the road that when we start our track work we don’t have to tap into the track, we can build on what we have and really focus on the track. If this was any other cycle (Olympic 4-year cycle) we’d be doing up in altitude doing a road block or something similar, so we’re doing what we can in Australia.”
With coronavirus restrictions still in place, the Australian Cycling Team has opted for an absolute minimum of overseas competition with normal preparations like team camps at altitude in places like Mexico not an option. Despite those limitations, the plan is working from the perspective of Plapp.
“I do think it is,” said Plapp. “Obviously, I don’t know what the situation is with the other countries on the track or what they’re doing. The difference is that I’ve seen them doing a lot of road races, whether that’s WorldTour or the level below.
“They’ve got a bit higher level of racing than us with the NRS or country carnivals. I still think we’re getting exactly what we need out of these races, we had our international level races at the start of the year. We’re doing what’s right for us and I don’t think we are missing anything.”
Plapp races for Inform TM Insight MAKE on the road and said he was looking forward to the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool and gave some tips for those watching along from afar on the SBS Cycling Central Facebook page, who will be livestreaming the race from 11.30am AEST on Saturday.
“I think it will create quite a different dynamic,” said Plapp, “it will be a Warrny that haven’t seen for quite a while, or ever really, if the crosswinds come as predicted. I’m quite looking forward to that. Hopefully by the time everyone’s tuned in, the race is split apart and in a lot of groups.”
The 2021 Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool departs from Avalon Airport at 8.00am AEST, with live coverage of the action starting at 11.30am AEST on the SBS Cycling Central Facebook livestream.