Domestique Cycling Podcast recently started its 2024 season. To celebrate the new start we invited a special guest: Laurens De Plus. The INEOS Grenadiers rider joined us to have a chat about his wild off-season, review his rollercoaster of a 2023 season and to look ahead at 2024.
Hi Laurens! How are you doing? Are you completely recovered from your heavy crash at La Vuelta?
Laurens De Plus: "Yes, I think so! I stopped my rehabilitation two weeks ago so now the main focus is to be on the bike to prepare for next season. It is a really nice feeling to no longer have any doubts and to prepare as normal for next season and setting my goals for it."
We discovered you have an intriguing nickname. Tell us more about the Carrot from Ninove!
"A lot of people actually ask me that! It is a symbol of our city Ninove, where every citizen is called a carrot. It is not the most exciting nickname within the pro peloton, but I am very proud of it."
Geraint Thomas recently revealed he has been drunk 12 out of 14 nights during offseason. Were your off-season activities as spectacular?
"I texted him about it. I sent him this message: 'Hey mate good to see that you were on the piss the last two weeks and making all the headlines. But I actually have beaten you now mate. I did three weeks full gas!' Seriously though, I did a good mix of sports, relaxing and sometimes having a drink all within the limits of a normal person."
Geraint invited you guys to a Giro celebration night. What was it like?
"The whole Giro squad was invited by G to celebrate our performance in the Giro (2nd place in GC, red.). He took us on a boat trip around Monaco, where we also went to the club. I tweeted that a paracetamol was much needed afterwards as there was a lot of headaches! We actually had to take a flight straight after it. It was a horrific flight back to Belgium to say the least. My girlfriend was watching on in embarrassment."
Your 2023 season ended with a heavy crash on the opening day of La Vuelta. How disappointed were you?
"Very disappointed. Until now I have tried not to think as much about it. For me it was a big missed opportunity. The weather during that opening team time trial was bad and there was a lack of visibility. It certainly could have been avoided. There is still a bit of unfinished business with the Vuelta, that’s for sure. I hope to go back next year. This year's crash can maybe motivate me."
There is still a bit of unfinished business with the Vuelta
Did you guys think it would become that dark during the race?
"We didn’t really speak about it. It's hard to predict the weather of course. I understand it is a difficult decision to make for the organisation. Still now I am very disappointed with it, but we need to move on."
How did the team staff evaluate the team’s Vuelta performance?
"It wasn't a very good Grand Tour for us, especially given our reputation within those races. We always need to be near the top, competing for the win. There were bad vibes from the start. We had my crash, then Thymen's, which was also very bad. You definitely feel it as a group when someone crashes. It was really a combination of everything, meaning it wasn’t a Vuelta to be for us. Like I said before, there certainly is unfinished business."
People believe that INEOS Grenadiers cannot compete for a Grand Tour win anymore and that the team’s transfer strategy doesn’t make sense. What is your opinion on this?
"I understand them of course. However, within cycling a lot of things can change quickly. I would never underestimate us. We still of course have G and a lot of upcoming young prospects. Getting to the top as a team can be relatively easy, but trying to stay there is much harder. The team won its first Grand Tour in 2012 and now we are here, ten years later. I would like to come back in ten years to see if the teams succeeding now are the same then."
Getting to the top as a team can be relatively easy, but trying to stay there is much harder
After the Giro, the team was obviously disappointed to come so close, but weren’t you a little proud with how the team performed?
"Definitely. We still have our Whatsapp group and we are all really proud that we were selected for that Giro. If you go and look at the lineup it was one hell of a team quality wise, but is was also a bunch of friends. We even lost Pippo Ganna after 8 stages and Tao Geoghegan Hart abandoned during stage 11. It will be very hard to have that same kind of vibe in the future. Of course I hope it will happen again."
How did Tao’s crash change the team’s strategy?
"It totally changed the dynamics of our strategy. We had more of an offensive strategy before Tao’s crash. After losing him it was a more conservative strategy. We only had one shot at winning without Tao. If we would've had Tao until the end, I think the end result would have been different. Before his crash he said he didn’t even go into the red on any of the stages."
You ended Giro d'Italia in tenth place. Was a GC top 10 on your mind during the third week?
"Of course not. I still had to pull in the flat and mountain stages. Thanks to the circumstances of the last three days, I was able to get into that spot, but the goal was still to win the Giro with G. At the end of the day, I am proud of that top ten with everything that happened this year."
Does seeing the story of Sepp Kuss winning La Vuelta make you dream?
"He is an inspiration for everyone, I think. Sepp just started as a domestique and now he is a Grand Tour winner. His status within the peloton changed completely. He is no longer a domestique as he will be a leader or at least be seen as a co-leader in any Grand Tour he goes to. The teams won't make the same mistake as they did in the Vuelta, where he gained so many minutes in the breakaway."
Sepp Kuss will be a leader or at least be seen as a co-leader in any Grand Tour he goes to
Do you have some personal goals for the 2024 season?
"The team asked me and I said I would want to compete in all three grand tours, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. In my dreams I would love to do this because they are the best races on the calendar."
Are there any races you would like to win next year?
"A Grand Tour stage win is always in the back of my mind. Unfortunately it wasn't possible in the Giro due to the circumstances. Getting the GC win with the team is always the priority."
Was there a lot of interest in you from teams for a 2024 contract?
"Of course there was after the Giro. There were always teams interested. There is nowhere better for me as a rider than Ineos. I was very happy that the team wanted me to stay as it was my main preference."
Watch the entire Laurens De Plus podcast episode below: