Only two weeks after his amazing win at the 2013 XC Eliminator World Championships in South Africa, Paul Van Der Ploeg travelled to Bejing to be part of the 2013 Qiansen Trophy, the first ever UCI cyclo cross held in China. We caught up with him after the race and had a chat about his XCE win and Chinese CX adventure.
Hi Paul, congratulations on winning the rainbow jersey in the XC Eliminator! How does it feel to be the World Champion? An eliminator race is always a stressful event, can you tell us what your day looked like and how you took out the final?
It is an unbelievable feeling to come away with a world title in South Africa. I have had a super crazy year so far and almost didn’t make it over to the event as I had committed to racing in the UCI Asian Tour event, the Tour of Borneo.
I approached the Eliminator World Championships with a pretty casual attitude, learning from the previous year in Austria. Arriving in South Africa on the back end of some violent food poisoning I just chilled out and soaked up the awesome vibes that are associated with a World Champs event.
Coming into the event as an unknown quantity and not knowing if I had the strength power and composure to be competitive was a little bit stressful, but as it is a short race and I had achieved success in the Eliminator discipline before I had hope that I could put it together on the day.
After I was caught behind the big crash in the Cross-country Olympic format in the first 500m, all pressure for that event was off. I just enjoyed the very special experience of riding in a World Championships race, with screaming crowds deafening you as you bounce through the technical shoots and rock gardens of the Pietermaritzburg course. I knew that my job on the Aussie team was to perform in the XCE and I had to focus on how I would go about doing that.
The night before the race I fitted the new pre release Schwalbe ‘Thunder Burt’ super fast tread. I also increased the chain ring size to a 36 on the XX1. Nerves were running high the morning of the race so I just had to control what I could and prepare for battle.
After I made it through the qualification time trial in top 10 I was a lot less nervous as 1 mistake on the TT and your day is over. In the first head to head heat I really had to fight to get in the top two positions and move through to the next round.
Before I knew it I was on the start line in the final at the World Championships and all I was thinking was ‘Don’t come 4th!’ In the first straight I was slow to react and only got away in 3rd, then I made the decision to lay it on the line and ride a sneaky inside line to try and overtake the other riders, a manoeuvre I also successfully tested in the semi-finals. To my surprise the door was wide open and I rode from 3rd to 1st and found myself leading the race. Into the rock garden I nailed my line and headed over the next section with a small gap….
For the whole lap I was just focused on riding my own race and putting everything I had through the pedals. I didn’t look back once as I knew that the world cup leader was right there ready to pounce! In the final straight I got on the pedals and gave it everything.
As I crossed the line I exploded with the emotions of winning a World Title. This was something that I only dreamt about and never truly believed it was possible. From that moment on, it was all a bit of a blur and the series of events that unfolded are inexplicable. I was just so happy to be able to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can perform on the world stage. It is just awesome to give a result back to my friends, my family and my sponsors who have had blind faith in my riding ability.
Becoming a World Champion is to join a very exclusive club and it almost feels ridiculous that an oversized country boy from Alpine Victoria was able to pull this off.
You’re combining the mountain bike with stage racing on the road and the occasional cyclo cross, what does the rest of the season look like for you and what are the main goals for 2013-2014?
With the random race calendar I have been undertaking the last 12 months, it is hard for me to decide what direction I will take next year. But I must admit that wearing the World Champion’s jersey is definitely a game changer. I would regret not taking every opportunity to show the rainbow jersey to the world so the way things are looking now, I will be racing the 2014 World Cup Series.
Last weekend you joined Giant Bicycles Australia team mate Lewis Rattray on a trip to Bejing for China’s first ever UCI Cyclocross. It was a strong line up at the start with a few former CX world champions and some of the stronger American riders and U23 Belgians. After a strong start despite a fourth row start position, you pulled out in the tech zone halfway trough the race. How did you feel about that?
When Lewis told me about the cyclo cross race in China, I was super excited and it was a great opportunity to be involved in a new event in a country that I have never visited before. After the Worlds I had some time off the bike due to traveling home, catching up with family, friends and studying. I also moved house in the week I was home so training took a back seat. Coming into the race I was enjoying the new international world of cyclo cross and meeting new people from all parts of the globe.
Cyclo-cross seems to attract really chilled out people who just love their sport. During the week we got to see the Great Wall and an enormous gorge. When race day came around I wasn’t feeling awesome as I was a little underdone training wise and the course didn’t promote overtaking. Starting from almost 40th on the grid meant I had a big job ahead of me. During the race I started to move up through the field but then I battled with the rough course and not being adapted to the demands of a hard CX race. Half way through the race I decided to try and enjoy the race and just keep ticking the laps over as I drifted back through the field.
I’m not usually one to pull out of a race as it is totally against how I have been raised. In this specific situation though my back was so sore that I couldn’t pedal properly and I had stopped enjoying the race. As the course was so fresh, fast and dry it was brutal on the body and the night after the race all of the riders were hobbling around pretty buckled from the race.
It was an amazing experience in China though. My own race may not have been what I had hoped for, but the event has a lot of potential and the more prepared riders had a great battle at the pointy end of the race. I would really like to do more cyclo cross races in the future after having a lot of fun racing over the Australian winter and the national CX series.
As for what the following months look like, I have a few more key races coming up with the Tour of Tasmania NRS race, the Cape to Cape and the Hellfire cup. It should be a very exciting way to finish off the year and head into the off-season reflecting on what has been undoubtedly my most enjoyable season so far.