Watch all the action from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS VICELAND and SBS OnDemand from September 19-26! The Men's Under 23 time trial will be shown on Monday, September 20 from 1830 AEST on SBS OnDemand.
It's been a busy few months for the 20-year-old Australian, from a tumultuous Olympics campaign with the men's team pursuit squad, ultimately finishing with a bronze medal, to being announced as joining forces with WordlTour powerhouse INEOS Grenadiers for 2021 and beyond. He was straight on a plane from Tokyo after the Games and thrust almost straight into competition at the Tour de l'Avenir, the race for future stars of the sport.
It's a place where many riders secure deals for the following season with WorldTour squads, but with Plapp already signed on after winning a stage of the Santos Festival of Cycling and then the elite national time trial championships earlier in the year, it was thankfully not a blow to his career prospects when he came down in a crash on Stage 1, fracturing his elbow.
Plapp takes up the story of how he continued to soldier on, even attacking during the stage, in an interview with SBS Cycling Central.
“It was quite hectic in that bunch, so I charged on and went in the break all day, got a good stimulus and hit out for training," said Plapp. "I felt pretty sore after that and I tried to do the team time trial recon the next day.
"I was fine in the aero bars but couldn’t get in the base bars so I said, ‘yeah let’s go get an x-ray’. The x-ray showed a broken elbow, so that’s kept me on the ergo for the last three weeks.”
The problem is that the world championships time trial, Plapp's big post-Olympics goal is fast approaching, with only a few days until the event, and Plapp only just returned to riding on the road after the physically and mentally grinding task of training exclusively on the stationary bike.
“I’ve never done much ergo training in the past, quite frankly I hate it," said Plapp. 'It was a bit of a slog to get through it. It was almost a blessing in disguise though, the preparation is quite specific for this and it allowed to focus on the TT."
The Victorian is competing in the Under 23 men's, despite being the reigning elite champion in Australia, with an eye on winning a rainbow jersey in the Under 23s at a home world championships in Wollongong in 2022. Whether he'll take the title this year is very much up in the air, with Plapp not having the grounding of a long road season to provide the base fitness for a longer event like the 30.3 kilometre course in Flanders on Monday.
"With the prep I’ve done, I don’t have any base behind me on the road," said Plapp. "Hopefully, I can be there around time check one and from there get told I’m close and hold it to the finish line. That’s how I’ll race it. I should be ok, if you go into the race thinking you can... you might.
"At the same time you have to be realistic, I had my first ride on the TT bike yesterday actually. It was pretty comfy, but of course, getting on the bike seven days out isn’t ideal.”
The time trial is as much about the effort that's gone in ahead of the competition as the race day, with a combination of wattage output, aerodynamics and fusing the body into a position on the bike where there's a happy meeting of the two, and of comfort to hold steady throughout the effort. The 2021 world championships course looks to be the most pure examination of those elements in recent years, with not many technical sections and very little climbing on the route.
“Apart from maybe Doha, I don’t think there’s been a flatter or more straightforward TT," said Plapp. "50 metres of elevation, that’s a couple of speed humps.
"There are a few 90-degree corners near the start, but really it’s straightforward. It’s a short and fast TT this one.
"We saw something similar at the Euros and the average height on the podium was 193 centimetres and that was a very similar course, they try and mimic it to the worlds. I think we’ll see a lot of big boys at the TT, it’s about who can put out the most watts and get aero. It might suit the track prep well, just not sure if it suits a broken elbow.”
Time will tell if Plapp can pull off a 'Matt Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix'-esque performance and take victory a major event off a disrupted preparation and a home trainer. If he can do so, he'll be following in the pedal strokes of a number of Australian Under-23 riders that have claimed the top spot on the podium including Luke Durbridge, Damien Howson, Campbell Flakemore and Jack Bobridge.
Watch all the action from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS VICELAND and SBS OnDemand from September 19-26!