Laurens De Plus had extra motivation when he went on the offensive on the stiff climb to the finish at Quriyat on stage 3 of the Tour of Oman. Back home in Belgium, the youngster was the subject of Thursday night’s installment of Alles voor de koers, an ongoing documentary series about his Quick-Step Floors team, and he wanted to mark the occasion with his first professional win.
“It was all or nothing, but the race was 100 metres too long for me,” De Plus told Cyclingnews on Friday morning. The Aalst native had bounded clear of the leading group some 1.5 kilometres from the line, and had he not posed a threat to the overall lead of Ben Hermans (BMC), he might well have stayed away. Instead, he was pegged back within sight of the line, and had to settle for fourth behind Søren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb).
On the evidence of his form in Oman, not to mention his striking back catalogue as an amateur, De Plus’ maiden victory in this company ought not to be long in coming. Still only 21 years of age, he is already in his second season at WorldTour level, and believes that the experience amassed during his debut campaign is already standing to him this time around.
“My first year was good and I did a lot of big races, including a lot of WorldTour races,” said De Plus, who was fast-tracked into the squad for the Ardennes Classics. “I helped the guys a lot especially in the Classics and I had nice races. I didn’t have big results but people who know cycling know that I did a lot of work in the final and I was always there. I did a good, consistent season, which was the most important thing. This year I’ll try to have some results, step-by-step, and hope that in the future I can have some big wins.”
De Plus’ most notable achievement in 2016 was perhaps not a result so much as a selection, and it was testimony to his reputation within Belgium that relatively few eyebrows were raised when, despite his youth, Kevin De Weert picked him for the Olympic Games road race in Rio. Although De Plus didn’t finish in Brazil, he performed well in support of eventual gold medallist Greg Van Avermaet early on. In Belgium, De Plus’ tears of joy in the finish area would become one of the indelible images of Van Avermaet’s triumph.
“I was so tired and then all the emotions came in one moment. But that’s cycling, that emotion,” De Plus said. “After the Classics, Kevin De Weert contacted me, so I knew then that I had some chance of going to Rio. I went to an altitude camp all focused on the Olympics and then I rode well in the Dauphiné, and that’s why I got my selection. Maybe some guys were surprised, but, like I said, the guys who follow cycling know that I did a lot of work. I was useful for Van Avermaet and he’s very thankful to me still, so that also feels like a victory for me.”
Lotto switch and stage racing
Those who kept tabs of De Plus as an amateur are still getting used to seeing him in the blue of Quick-Step after he served his apprenticeship as part of the same Lotto-Soudal under-23 nursery that produced his contemporaries Tiesj Benoot and Louis Vervaeke. Like Ryan Giggs leaving Manchester City’s School of Excellence to sign for Manchester United, De Plus had no hesitation about crossing Belgian cycling’s divide. As part of the same process of renewal that saw Quick-Step snap up Fernando Gaviria, Patrick Lefevere felt De Plus was an essential investment for the future.
“I was contacted by five or six teams about turning professional, and sometimes you need to make big decisions to have a good improvement. If you always do the same as the others, it’s not the best idea, so sometimes you need to make the big decisions to make big steps,” De Plus said. “For me it felt better. I had a lot of confidence from Lefevere, and, this year also, I feel I can grow in this team.”
De Plus’ objective for the 2017 campaign is an open-ended one. “I want to do better than last year,” he said. The general improvement includes accompanying Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe deeper into the finales of Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – “Maybe I can be a bit of a revelation” – and lining out for his maiden Grand Tour.
Indeed, De Plus is already penciled in for selection in a three-week race this year, but his Quick-Step team has delayed announcing the information publicly. “I know it already but I cannot say it yet,” De Plus smiled. “They’ve asked me to keep quiet for now.” After finishing second overall at both the Ronde de l’Isard and Giro della Valle d’Aosta as an espoir, however, he believes his future lies in stage racing. “They suit me best because I recover really well,” he said.
This week in Oman, meanwhile, De Plus has been sharing a room with a veteran who forged his reputation at a young age in a rather different sector. As Tom Boonen ticks down the days to his final race at Paris-Roubaix, De Plus said roommate was showing no outward signs that this is a farewell tour. “You cannot feel it,” De Plus said, “but the magic is there.”