When Jayco AlUla announced it had signed Luke Plapp for the next four years, they did something a little different. They didn’t just send out a standard press release full of quotes from Plapp and team management; they also created a rather striking video.
It began innocuously enough, with Jayco AlUla staff and riders being asked “what’s the most Australian thing you can think of?” You can probably guess the answers – kangaroos, Vegemite, that sort of thing. But soon enough Plapp himself appears on screen, shirtless in the Aussie bush, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and short-shorts, chopping up a piece of wood, announcing his signing, and swigging a VB to celebrate, all with Men at Work’s ‘Down Under’ playing in the background. It is quite something.
The idea to lean into the Aussie-ness of signing the Aussie champ came from Jayco AlUla, with the team directing 22-year-old Plapp to “be as Aussie bogan as possible” in his section of the video. He came up with the idea of chopping wood, sent through a video to the team, and initially they rejected it.
“So I filmed one with a shirt on, no beer, and they said, ‘Nah, nah nah, you can do better,’” he said on The Press Room Podcast late last week. “So the shirt [came] off and the VB came out and I think we hit the mark there.”
Plapp’s arrival will be welcome news for those who miss the hallmark Australian-ness of Australia’s only WorldTour team. When the team began in 2012, 17 of its riders were from Australia. In 2023, that number is down to nine – the fewest Aussies in the team’s history. Long gone are the days of Dan Jones’ Backstage Pass videos when the team felt truly Australian. Perhaps with Plapp’s signing for 2024 – and indeed the return of Caleb Ewan – the team will have greater appeal for Aussie cycling fans (there’s 11 Aussies on the squad in 2024).
Plapp had been in talks with Jayco AlUla prior to his neo-pro season in 2022, even texting with team owner and long-time backer Gerry Ryan when deciding where to start his pro career. He ended up going to Ineos Grenadiers where he’s ridden for the past two seasons.
“It just didn’t feel like the right time [to join Jayco in 2022],” Plapp said on The Press Room Podcast. “Obviously, I just rode TDU with Richie [Porte, who was at Ineos – ed.] And yeah, Ineos was the greatest place for me to start. And I loved every second I spent there. I think it was the greatest thing and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I think the way that they managed to develop me and to get to where I am now has been amazing.”
When asked by podcast host Jethro Nagle what he learnt most at Ineos, Plapp is quick to respond.
“Professionalism,” he says. “Those little one-percenters that they do. And also the on and off switch in both life and cycling.”
He says that while some people might view Ineos as a team of always-in-racing-mode robots, he’s really appreciated how laid back a lot of the riders are, and how they’re able to easily switch from the seriousness of race mode, to a much more relaxed mindset.
“I think the likes of G [Geraint Thomas], Rowey [Luke Rowe], Swiftie [Ben Swift], Tao [Geoghegan Hart] – all those guys that are at the top of the sport and some of the best in the world, there’s still that balance they have.
“I think G is a class of his own and [there’s] probably no athlete like him, how he can peak for a race that he’s focusing on. But also the laid back nature of all of them …”
Plapp’s interview with The Press Room Podcast is a chummy affair, and Nagle doesn’t dive into why Plapp is breaking his contract a year early if he has “loved every second” with the team. (Plapp hasn’t responded to multiple requests for an interview with Escape.) But Plapp did highlight that Gerry Ryan has played a key role in making his new contract possible, “especially for next year”, possibly suggesting that Ryan has paid out the final year of Plapp’s Ineos contract.
Either way, the result is that Plapp will spend the next four seasons with the Aussie team – 2024 through 2027. Not that Plapp was pushing for such a long contract.
“It definitely wasn’t what we were looking for or asking for, it just fell that way and I didn’t think otherwise,” he says. “It just made sense. All of it did, really – it didn’t take too many second thoughts or weighing things up; it just felt like the right time.”
While Plapp hasn’t raced with the GreenEdge setup before, he does have links with the organisation that make it a comfy fit.
“It does feel like I’m coming home,” he says. “I talk to a lot of the staff and the riders so much, and obviously my best mate Blake [Quick] is there. So nah, I’m really keen to come home and so it doesn’t feel like you need one of those team camps to learn the people. I feel like I’ll just slot straight back in which … that’s what I’m stoked about.
“I just know all the staff and it’s just felt right. The last few weeks just messaging them all and organising equipment and things like that – it’s just flowed really smoothly. And it won’t be long till Nationals and TDU and we’re right into the swing of things.”
Aussie Nationals in early January will be an intriguing one. Plapp’s won the last two editions of the road race, both times as the only Ineos Grenadiers rider on the startline. In 2024, he’ll be on the strongest team in the race, with one of the biggest line-ups. The change in dynamics will be fascinating to watch.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to get that jersey in the team. It’s been a couple of years now … a good couple of years,” he says with a knowing smile.
“There’s obviously pros and cons to it when I was by myself. Any breakaway that goes, you’re shitting yourself; you’re like ‘Is that the one? Do I need a chase? Should I wait?’ You never have confidence in any move that goes and you’re, I guess, praying that someone else would do the work for you.
“But then at the same time, [in a bigger team like Jayco] you can make sure you’ve got someone in every move, but the pressure is on you. If a move goes up the road that’s not right, your team is the one that’s going to chase it. Like if a move went last year that, say, a Jayco winner, or leader wasn’t in, they had to chase – it wasn’t on me. So they have all the pressure, but they’ve got the numbers to make it right.”
Among the numbers that Jayco AlUla is likely to have at Nationals in January is one Caleb Ewan, who is returning to the team and who has been second in Buninyong before.
“Obviously Caleb coming back to Jayco, the whole team commits for him,” Plapp says. “You wouldn’t put it past him at all to win. I think as long as one of us [Jayco riders] is wearing it, it’s good.”
In terms of Plapp’s bigger goals with the team, that’s not clear yet. Jayco AlUla management are excited by his time-trialling in particular but they want to give him time to develop, to see what he’s capable of on the GC front. Plapp himself is hoping to learn more about the craft of GC racing from Simon Yates, having ridden with his twin in 2022.
“I hope to learn off Yatesy,” Plapp says. “I got to ride with Adam a lot last year in Ineos in my first year and learnt a heap off him and he’s an absolutely cracking bloke and being twins I’m sure they’re both pretty good fellas.”
More immediately though, it’s those Aussie races that have Plapp’s attention right now. Nationals, Tour Down Under, and before all those, the Tour of Bright. That’s one of Australia’s most prestigious stage races for amateurs, and a race that runs right past Plapp’s hobby farm in Victoria’s High Country.
“The TT goes past my front door so like, I need to get that, I have to [win] that,” he says.
He’s also hoping to win the Mt. Buffalo stage of the three-stage race, while taking the KOM on what he describes as his favourite climb. In fact, the whole Victorian High Country holds a special place in Plapp’s heart.
“There’s nowhere else in the world like it – I absolutely love it there,” he says. “The valleys are beautiful, it’s 30 ºC during the day, it drops to like four or five overnight, you’re all rugged up by the campfire. You get out of the hustle and bustle, whether it’s Melbourne or Europe or apartment living, and you’ve just got space. You’ve got that fresh mountain air, the rivers. I love it when I’m not riding and then when you are riding, there’s no way better to train I don’t think.”
Before too long we’ll get a sense of how that training’s been going. If he manages to win Nationals in January, he’ll become just the fourth Australian to win three elite road titles in a row (after Russell Mockridge, John Trevorrow, and Kathy Watt). And then it’s into the season proper where he’ll surely be looking for more results like his promising second overall at this year’s UAE Tour (behind Remco Evenepoel, no less).
Regardless of how Plapp’s transfer to Jayco AlUla pans out, we’ll always have the announcement video to show for it, and for that we should be grateful.
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