Laurens De Plus has had to endure more than most in his young career after two major crashes in quick succession tested his resilience to the maximum. Now embarking on his first season with the Jumbo-Visma team, De Plus says that recovering from the injuries he sustained have changed him as a person.
De Plus always has a wide smile on his face, except when he’s in the midst of a race, but the last two years have been trying for the 23-year-old. He was the first of four riders to crash on a bend on the descent of the Sormano during the 2017 Il Lombardia and go over the guardrail onto the steep slope beyond.
The Belgian fractured his knee in the incident and spent much of the off-season recovering from the injury. With the knee fracture firmly put behind him, De Plus was then training in South Africa with teammates Bob Jungels and Petr Vakoc last January when the group was hit by a passing truck. Jungels escaped injury but Vakoc fractured his spine while De Plus was left with a pelvis and sacrum fracture. It was May before he was able to start his 2018 season.
“It was just a hard time. But, I had a lot of support from the people around me. Still, I am very thankful for them because without them I may not have been a rider anymore. It changed me as a person,” De Plus told Cyclingnews.
“When something goes wrong in a race then you can maybe put it in a bit more perspective. It’s only a small thing.”
With an injury-free end to the season, De Plus was able to enjoy the off-season properly and savour the time that he could spend with his family, without a visit from the doctor.
“I said many times to my family that I’m so happy now it’s gone, and we can spend a nice time [together] and the doctor doesn’t have to come and check if my knee is ok and if the pelvis is ok. I enjoyed it. Also, I have maybe changed a bit mentally, I have more value for small things and I’m maybe a bit more adult now.”
De Plus’ attack at Il Lombardia back in 2017 – his second year as a professional – was a small sign of his growing capabilities. Had he not crashed, it would have been interesting to see how far he could have gone with the move. That will never be known, and we will never know what he could have done at the start of the 2018 season.
The incident-free off-season didn’t just give him a chance to spend more time with his family, but it also gave De Plus an opportunity to really focus on his form and impress his new team. De Plus switched QuickStep for Jumbo-Visma over the winter and made his debut in their distinctive yellow colours at the recent UAE Tour, where he played a key role in delivering Primoz Roglic to the overall victory.
“It was a really nice week, I think it was a dream to start like this with my new team,” said De Plus. “I was expecting that I would be good because, after last year where I had a lot of crashes, I was also hit by a truck in South Africa, so this was the first winter that I could do a really good build-up. We had a nice training camp in Tenerife, and I felt confident, that I was good, and I had power. Still, you’re always a bit uncertain. Every top sportsman is always a little bit uncertain. I’m happy now and I’m confident.”
De Plus was ever-present on the front at the UAE Tour, putting some decorated Grand Tour contenders in trouble, and will be playing the same role for Roglic at this week’s Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia later this season. It will be De Plus’ third appearance at a Grand Tour and the first time he’s ridden the Giro since his debut in 2017 – where he rode in support of Jungels. De Plus says that he and Roglic are already becoming good friends and he is excited to be part of a team that could take home the maglia rosa at the end of the three weeks.
“It’s super exciting because you know when somebody wins a Grand Tour it’s history and if you’re part of it it’s something you can tell people later on,” De Plus told Cyclingnews. “He’s [Roglic] my friend already. We just met only two or three months ago, but he’s a really good friend now. We feel what each other is thinking, we don’t need to talk, we just know what to do in the race. It’s lucky to have him as a teammate for a couple of years.”
De Plus hopes to work towards becoming a team leader himself, but for this year, his main desire is to get Roglic onto the top step of the podium at the Giro d’Italia.
“Personally, I want to make another step, like I’ve done. The team took me as a potential leader. It might take some years, but I will take it step by step,” explained De Plus. “Another goal for me is to win the Giro with Primoz. When you can win a Grand Tour with a teammate it is also like a big victory for yourself.”