The Van Der Ploeg name is one that's fairly well known within the National Road Series but this year it's Paul, not Neil who is hoping to convert his already-proven mountain bike talent onto the Australian domestic and Asia Tour road scene. Fresh off winning the KoM classification at the Tour of Thailand, along with a podium result on Stage 1, Paul is hoping a few easy days will see him perform well at the opening round of the NRS at the four-day Woodside Tour de Perth.
The racing which kicks-off today on the famous Rottnest Island will be only the third road tour he has contested. There was a brief showing in the NRS with search2retain at the Tour of Tasmania in 2011 but since then his focus has been circled around stints in the domestic XC National Series and the European XC World Cup circuit - where he won a round of the eliminator in 2011.
"I did the Tour of Tasmania one year with search2retain but that was at the end of a long mountain bike season and I was really cooked when I entered it. I didn't take a real serious approach to it," he told Cyclingnews.
The experience at Thailand had its ups and downs, according to the 23-year-old who lost the green points jersey on the final stage of the six-day tour.
"Thailand was massive experience for me, I hadn't competed in any road racing at that level internationally before. The first five days were pretty awesome; getting on the podium on the first day, getting the KoM jersey and then getting into the green [points] jersey at the end of Stage 5. I was going into Stage 6 pretty amped and excited and then tactically I just made a couple of bad decisions and the whole dynamic of the race changed for me, Van Der Ploeg told Cyclingnews.
"I pretty much got caught out behind the split. The yellow jersey was in my group and his whole team was there so I just assumed his team wouldn't let a big break of 27 riders go. It was just super fast and a bit of a crazy stage. We averaged just under 50km/h! It was a bit of a wild stage.
"The Satalyst boys had Peter English and Brad Hall up front and they got third and sixth on the stage so it wasn't a complete loss for the team. That's an intriguing part of road racing because even though I had a terrible stage, the team didn't actually have such a bad day," he added.
The Tour de Perth offers Van Der Ploeg his next major challenge; backing up for a second consecutive race with just a few days to recover. Just hours before the start of Stage 1 Van Der Ploeg and his Satalyst-Giant teammates were heading out to preview to the 20km circuit around the island and while he knows he has potential and the power to be a factor in the NRS, there's plenty of elements to the racing which he is yet to discover.
"Tour of Thailand was the most riding in kilometre volume that I have done so I was pretty fatigued the last few days but hopefully it's enough time to recover and light it up again," he said.
"I don't really know what kind of rider I'll be at this point. Neil can obviously climb and he's an all-rounder so I would assumed I will be a similar style to him. It's all a bit of an unknown at this stage.
"I did 2,100 [watts] in the lab and then on the road I have punched out 2,200 in January. I think there's an assumption that from my results in the lab that I will be able to destroy everyone in the sprint but there are so many variables besides raw power that you have to integrate but it should be interesting," he added.
With the Olympics in Rio still four years away Van Der Ploeg says he's happy to take on a more varied schedule. Signing with Giant Australia, as compared to a World Cup-focussed squad has given him a number of options which he hopes will develop his off-road craft even further. But for now, it's all about taking the opporunities that arise in 2013 and seeing where it leads.
"This year I've planned to mix it up a little bit and just change up what I'm doing. I'm taking a different pathway this year because it is four years away from the Olympics and there's not that much really high-level mountain biking on this year. I'll be trying a lot of other things; road racing at the NRS and Asia with Satalyst-Giant, mountain biking in Australia and maybe a few stage races and then also some cyclo-cross racing across the whole year. I'm really excited about the year I've got planned because it is such a contrast to last year where I was overseas for six months racing World Cups, being locked-in to a long-haul European trip.
"It's [the Olympics] definitely something I'll look at and I think the road might complement the mountain biking. That's what I'm trying to figure out and then I can make decisions further down the track. At this stage I'm really enjoying having new things on the horizon, new races and new challenges.
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