Luke Plapp: All in for Michael Matthews at Milan-San Remo

With Caleb Ewan a late omission due to sickness, Jayco AlUla will focus entirely on Matthews as Plapp makes his Monument debut before continuing his GC odyssey

Clock12:00, Friday 15th March 2024
Luke Plapp on the podium at Paris-Nice, his last outing before Saturday's Milan-San Remo

© Getty Images

Luke Plapp on the podium at Paris-Nice, his last outing before Saturday's Milan-San Remo

Luke Plapp will make his Monument debut at Milan-San Remo on Saturday, and the Australian is fully focused on supporting Michael Matthews as Jayco AlUla aim to take their first win in the race since 2012.

Matthews, twice a podium finisher in Milan-San Remo, is the team’s solo leader for the race after GCN confirmed that Caleb Ewan would miss the race through illness. The sprinter’s omission gives Plapp and his teammates a clearer task when it comes to tactics on Saturday, with the critical role of ensuring that Matthews is well-protected and supported across the two final climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio.

Plapp has been in Italy for several days, scoping out Giro d’Italia stages ahead of his Grand Tour mission later this spring.

“I haven’t spent much time here but I’m absolutely loving it,” he told GCN during an early morning call on Friday.

“I’ve been driving around, doing training rides and Giro recons and some rides with Jai Hindley and Grace Brown in between. It’s been nice.”

Those pleasantries will be put to one side on Saturday when Plapp lines up alongside key rivals, like Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck).

“It’s all in for Bling [Matthews’ nickname], with how the race will go. The start list is so strong, with so many potential winners and our best chance of winning is with him. He seems to have recovered after going home from Paris-Nice and is looking really good. In terms of winning the race, that’s our best bet. It’s exciting, being my first Monument, and I’ve certainly felt the hype around the race.

"All the staff in the team, especially Marco Pinotti, who says it’s the best race in the world and how you’ll have your favourite time here. I expected it to be a long, boring first five hours but every Italian thinks this is better than Christmas. So I’m keen to see what it's like.”

Matthews has certainly been in contention on the Poggio before but this year’s race could open up even earlier with many riders and commentators expecting major fireworks on the penultimate climb of the Cipressa.

Such a scenario would put the pressure on Plapp, with the Australian charged with closing gaps and setting a pace that would keep Matthews in contention but without putting his leader into the red.

“The other teams are going to try and dampen the legs of Michael, Mads Pedersen, and those other punchier guys,” Plapp said.

“So for me, it’s about making sure I get over the Cipressa and that we have as many teammates with Michael as possible. I can hopefully try and close any gaps that form on the climb, and then launch him into the Poggio and ride a pace that he wants us to ride for as long as possible. Then when the big boys attack over the top, hopefully, he can follow. I think we all know that if he can get to the finish line then he has a massive chance but it’s about what happens on the Poggio. It’s all there with the one goal too, with Caleb not racing and Lucas Hamilton now in the line-up.”

Paris-Nice trajectory points to the Giro d’Italia

Plapp came into the season on fire, winning both the road race and the time trial at the Australian national championships. He came back to earth with a bump at the Tour Down Under after a crash effectively ended his GC challenge and eventually culminated in his withdrawal. It was a bitter moment for the Australian, who looked in top-notch form for his home race.

When I got one of those ASO Paris-Nice lions I kept it next to me on the bus all week

However, a return to Europe saw the 23-year-old rediscover his best form with a dogged sixth place overall at Paris-Nice, where he wore the yellow jersey for several days. Outclassing the likes of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe) would have given Plapp a huge confidence boost, especially given the atrocious race conditions that the riders faced in the Race to the Sun.

“It was my best result in Europe in a stage race and I was really stoked, to be honest,” he told GCN.

“I surprised myself, and going into the race I was hoping for a top-ten but when I said that I had ninth or tenth in mind and then hoping to just slither in there, so to be able to spend time in yellow was amazing. To finish sixth, well once I got in yellow I never expected to hold it or make the podium, so to take sixth was a dream. It was also my first proper stage race in France, and I learned so much while I was racing. When I got one of those ASO Paris-Nice lions I kept it next to me on the bus all week.”

Following Milan-San Remo the Australian will take a long five-week absence from competition, and will instead focus on his training ahead of the Tour de Romandie in April. The Swiss race will be his final outing before the Giro d’Italia in May, and while he heads into the Grand Tour with a blank canvas of ambition, the growing sentiment – after Paris-Nice, especially – is that tilt at GC might be possible. Eddie Dunbar remains Jayco’s primary GC focus, but Plapp’s development could provide the squad with a second outlet in terms of the overall classification.

“For me, it’s all still going in the right direction. We’ve put me on this path to try and explore GC for a bit longer. We were going to use Paris-Nice and Romandie to work on that progression and the target for the Giro. So if Paris-Nice went terribly then we’d probably have started to focus on stages at the Giro. But now that it went well, we want to keep targeting the GC ambition,” he said.

“After Romandie, I’ll have a better idea of what my goal for the Giro will be. I’ll give Romandie a red hot crack. For the Giro, it’s still a bit too early to talk about goals but I guess it’ll be about supporting Eddie and then holding on for GC for as long as possible.”

You can check out our dedicated race page for Milan-San Remo, to discover the route, startlist and our official preview.

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