Rising Aussie Luke Plapp rides into Paris-Nice lead

Ian Chadband |

Rising Aussie star Luke Plapp has ridden into the yellow jersey at the week-long Paris-Nice race.
Rising Aussie star Luke Plapp has ridden into the yellow jersey at the week-long Paris-Nice race.

Australian road race champion Luke Plapp has surged into a surprise lead of one of cycling’s great races, heading the Paris-Nice ‘Race to the Sun’ on his debut after a daring runner’s up spot on the fourth stage.

The 23-year-old Melbourne ace, wearing his green-and-gold striped national champion’s jersey, took a punt on speeding away from the GC favourites on Wednesday’s penultimate climb of the day, going solo for a while some 15 seconds ahead of his pursuers.

But the Team Jayco AlUla star was eventually joined by Colombian Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious), with the pair then working together to break the rest of the field.

Buitrago had the legs to outpace Plapp over the last 1.3km and take the stage win himself but the Australian, who won his third straight national road race crown in January, battled well up the steep slopes of Mont Brouilly in Beaujolais to lose just 10 seconds and annex the yellow jersey. 

“Wearing the yellow is the furthest thing away I could have imagined today,” said Plapp. “I’m blown away by how it unfolded to be honest. It was quite a weird way that it all played out, but I am really happy.

“I really tried to race that last climb like a time trial and race it to the line and I think that gave me the best time possible rather than if I raced it and then blew up.”

It’s given Plapp a 13-second lead over Buitrago with the UAE Emirates pair of Brandon McNulty and Joao Almeida both within half-a-minute of the Australian too.

The big danger remains Soudal Quickstep star Remco Evenepoel, who’s just 30 seconds down, but with the fate of some of the later mountain-top stages still uncertain because of the weather, Plapp has suddenly put himself in an unexpected  position to go for glory.

“Anything else that happens in the race now is a bonus too,” said Plapp, who is expected to find life harder in the steepest climbs.

The other superstar Primoz Roglic, meanwhile, is still one minute 10 seconds adrift after a sluggish week by his standards.

The only Australian ever to have won Paris-Nice in its 91-year history is Richie Porte, who took the title in 2013 and 2015 and was a teammate of Plapp at Team Ineos before his retirement.

Australian team Jayco AlUla also have another home rider Chris Harper in the top-10, lying seventh overall 46 seconds adrift of Plapp.

“It’s been a nice start and hopefully we will have a sprint stage for (Jayco’s Dutch sprinter) Dylan (Groenewegen) as well. It’s really exciting. 

“We have such a diverse team here that every day we’re here to win, whether it is a sprint stage, the team time trial yesterday (in which they finished second) or today. 

“It’s really good fun racing with the team.”