Paul van der Ploeg (Australia) wins the eliminator world championships in Pietermaritzburg
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Australian road, 'cross and MTB racer wins eliminator Worlds
Last week, Paul Van der Ploeg was racing in the Tour of Borneo, where he won a stage and even briefly held the yellow jersey. On Sunday, the Australian was standing atop the podium as the newly-crowned eliminator world champion at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
"To come here and win the world title hasn't sunk in yet. I can't wait to go talk to my family," said Van der Ploeg to Cyclingnews.
In between Borneo and winning Worlds, he also dealt with some food poisoning.
"I got food poisoning coming out of Borneo. I was lying on a medical bed in the Kuala Lumpur airport, then I was in South Africa. Luckily I had a week to recover and to look at the course and to pray that I could put it together. I was hoping the sprinting would be good preparation for this race."
Van der Ploeg is a rider who races not only the road and mountain bike, but also cyclo-cross.
"It's been unique for me this year riding with Giant Australia. They didn't mind where I chose to ride. I did the national mountain bike series, then did the Tour of Thailand on the road. I raced some of the Australian cyclo-cross series during the Australian winter. Mountain bike worlds has always been something I would do if it fit in. It's been an amazing year."
Van der Ploeg last raced his mountain bike in March at the end of the Australian mountain bike national series. "But I always still ride mountain bikes because I love it, and it's just so much fun. I always go out training on my mountain bike which is a bit unorthodox for a road rider or part-time road rider."
When asked the inevitable question of whether he would continue to race multiple disciplines or pick one, he said, "My coach has always backed me through my decisions to do multiple disciplines and he allowed me this year to sort out what I want to do."
"I think this victory tilts me toward racing the eliminator World Cups next year if they continue in the World Cup series. Having the world championship jersey is kind of a big deal. If I can go over next year and race the world cups wearing the rainbow jersey, well, that's a dream for any cyclist. I'll probably lean toward that, but we'll see what happens."
Last year, van der Ploeg was "taken out" in the semi-finals when he got pushed into a wall. "It was a photo finish between me and Daniel Federspiel [who finished second on Sunday]. The tables have turned this year. Maybe it's a bit of karma coming in."
A shoulder reconstruction sidelined Van Der Ploeg late in 2012, before he returned to the bike for the start of the Australian domestic season only to break his collarbone in his first race back, the Tour de Perth in April. Since then, he has juggled international and domestic-based racing in all disciplines.
Van der Ploeg said he had no expectations coming into the eliminator Worlds. "I knew that you can have bad luck or a crash and it's over in the eliminator. It's a bit of a lottery. It's such a fast race and you can be out if something happens. I tried to keep calm and control all the variables I could."
He is well suited to the fledgling discipline - only in its second year as a world championship event. "Eliminators are short and require power. I'm an 90 kilo rider - I'm not really a cross country rider. The short explosive effort is what I'm suited for. I was selected for the Australian team solely for the eliminator but I rode a few laps of the cross country to spin out the legs."
He got caught behind the start crash yesterday in the cross country, but continued to ride a few laps for fun. "I just enjoyed the atmosophere of racing the cross country at the world level," he said.
In two weeks, he heads back to Asia for the first-ever UCI cyclo-cross race in China.
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