Laurens De Plus has revealed how he isolated himself from his cycling friends and the sport during much of 2021 as he waited for his body to recover from fatigue and a viral infection and quietly hoped to return to racing with Ineos Grenadiers.
The 26-year-old impressed with Jumbo-Visma in 2019, winning the BinckBank Tour and proving to be a key mountain domestique at the Tour de France when Steven Kruijswijk finished third overall. However, he was hit by a series of problems in the rescheduled 2020 season and ended his 2021 campaign at the Itzulia Basque Country in April when it became clear he was ill and struggling to train and recover.
De Plus has now been back in structured training since September 1 and is currently with his teammates at the Ineos Grenadiers end-of-year training camp. He had constant support from the team but admitted to the Belgian media during a video interview that he isolated himself and opted for a quiet life for several months in 2021 as he let his body recover.
"I had to completely reset, take a rest, something I just hadn't done enough of before. I wanted too much, but kept running into myself," he said, according to De Morgen.
“I went back to live with my parents, looked for a warm nest, and went back to the basics. I only kept in touch with the team, my parents and a small group of friends.
"I didn't reply to messages. What did I have to say? Nothing. I hope people aren't mad about that. I'm not normally like that but I was alone for a while and sometimes you have to be selfish."
De Plus suffered as he watched the 2021 racing season unfold without him, but as he recovered from the viral infection, he realised he still wanted to race.
"I realised that I really like racing. If it rains now, I won't complain," he said.
"If I can give one piece of advice to young guys, it's this: don't always live at 110 per cent. Of course you can't cut corners as a top athlete, but you can also ask too much of yourself. Look for a good balance."
De Plus, who is under contract at Ineos through the 2023 season, said he was happy to be back in Mallorca with his Ineos Grenadiers teammates.
"It's good to be among people again. I've had a really lonely few months," he admitted. "Fortunately the team took a long-term view. Ultimately, a career lasts longer than one season. They did not pressure me in any way. They gave me time. Even the big boss [Dave Brailsford] texted me and told me not to worry.
"There was no point in plodding along further, so we pulled the plug completely. Why rush when only rest and time are beneficial? It turns out to be the right strategy."
De Plus was known for being especially slim and focused on the bike. He is still carrying some extra weight after his time off but isn't worried as his recovery and return to racing will be very gradual.
"I was known for always watching my food, always being skinny, but that's a fine line. That's why I now have some extra weight. Perhaps I have spent a little too much in my reserves in recent years. A little extra certainly wouldn't hurt," he suggested.
"I will resume slowly, step by step, and I still need some training camps to get back to my level. I’ll ride a lighter race programme, not the big races right away and I accept any role in the team. Hopefully I'll be on my feet by the summer.
"My goals and ambitions for 2022? Sure I have them but I’m keeping them a secret. I just want to perform consistently again, that's the most important thing. I'm certainly not going to be too ambitious, I can't fall into that trap.
"I’ve come out of that bad period feeling stronger, I’m convinced of that. But I don't have high expectations at the moment. I strive for a constant, carefree year. And I’ll keep a low profile, the position in which I have always felt most comfortable. That works best for me."
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