In the last week of 2020, seven athletes and former athletes look back on an eventful year. Today: Richard Plugge.
Cycling is meditation, says the director of the Jumbo-Visma cycling team. His legs move, the head is free and open. “Some people practice yoga, I like to cycle on my own for two hours. Or run, but prefer cycling. I also often walk with my wife or Merijn (Zeeman, sports director of the team, ed.).”
“That gives me a lot of peace of mind. I have myself, my wife, Merijn and someone outside the team with whom I spar a lot. This allows me to keep my distance and muster the energy to continue.”
‘We’ve written an encyclopedia’
Quite a lot happened to him in 2020. On a personal and sporting level. And then the sporting weather can be divided into success, a sporting tragedy and a tragedy that goes much further than a defeat in a race alone. “We wrote an encyclopedia for the past year. A story of so many parts that just keeps going.”
“One chapter is even more exciting than the other. One seems to end even worse than the last and the other even better than the next. It is impossible to describe what we all went through.”
It’s worth the try. Plugge (51) has the flu at the beginning of March when he decides that Jumbo-Visma, as the first WorldTour team, will withdraw from Paris-Nice. After all, the corona virus is getting closer.
If the high fever does not pass after a week and Plugge reports to the hospital, he turns out to be infected with the virus. “I was the first at the Leiden University Medical Center to be admitted with corona. Fortunately I did not end up in the ICU, but I did receive oxygen support.”
Most frightening to him was the uncertainty. “Everything was unclear, they knew nothing about a possible treatment at the time. I was suggested to use chloroquine (a malaria drug, ed.), Because that would be good. They asked what I thought about it. I thought: what I thought of it. I don’t care much. As long as it helps. And I hope you as doctors know that.
“Not that I want to blame anyone with that, but it did give me a feeling of: what is this and what is happening here? They really don’t know what to give to relieve it, that was quite scary.”
“You’re healthy, aren’t you?”
Plugge recovers, although on the bike he still does not have the strength and condition he had before he became ill.
When in the spring work is being done on a calendar to restart cycling, Plugge will participate at the digital table. He is an experience expert. “Most foremen and organizers are my age, they were shocked and said: you cycle a lot, you are healthy and yet you get it. It can happen to anyone, I think that opened a lot of eyes.”
The cycling season will start again on 1 August with strict protocols. Plugge has come up with the following with his right hand Zeeman: when we start racing again, we will show something.
“We wanted to keep that in mind for the whole team during the lockdown and we succeeded to a considerable extent.”
Jumbo-Visma starts winning on day one when Wout van Aert is the best in Strade Bianche and only stops on the last day of racing, when Primoz Roglic wins the Vuelta.
‘Completely out of date’
Still, the euphoria disappears four days after Van Aert’s first victory in Italy. In the Tour of Poland, Dylan Groenewegen slams the door hard for Fabio Jakobsen, while both sprint towards the finish at eighty kilometers per hour. Jakobsen knocks over fences, for a day and a half his life is in danger.
“Then of course you are completely out of bed”, says Plugge. “You are going to fight on the bike, the worst that can happen is that you lose that sprint. Then you would be very disappointed, because then Fabio won. Or the other way around, Dylan wins and Fabio is disappointed. But this, nobody wanted this. Then it is only natural that you are broken. “
‘Roller coaster tremendous’
But, and that is why the comparison of 2020 with an encyclopedia is perhaps justified, only 72 hours later Van Aert wins Milan-Sanremo and Roglic shows in the Tour of the Ain that he is also in top form.
“We’re talking eight days, it was a rollercoaster ride.”
Plugge had little time to replay the film from the first week of August. “It went on and on, the team also had to continue. There was a lot to do and to arrange. And now, because after the Vuelta we immediately started making plans for next year. But the crash of Dylan and my illness, that are two black pages in this year. “
You could call the loss of the overall victory in the Tour a third low. Great was the dismay when Tadej Pogacar managed to drive Roglic out of the yellow jersey in the injury time of the Tour de France.
“Is it a black page?”
“It’s a bit like Lucas Moura who scores three times while you think you are already there”, Plugge compares that moment with the elimination of Ajax in the semi-finals of the Champions League. “We have already said a few times: what exactly happened here? I believe we ran into a rider who was much stronger.”
“But is it a black page? Well, yes, it is very disappointing, but it is of a very different order from the black pages we talked about earlier.”
“Without wanting to downplay it, we are talking about sports. You lose a match, as a sportsman I find that terrible. The Tour will stay with me for the rest of my life in terms of sports, but it is on a different level than that other two events. “
At the top of the world rankings
Plugges team closes 2020 with Van Aert as leader in the UCI ranking of one-day races. And, even more valuable to the director: Jumbo-Visma in the first place of the teams, as the first Dutch team ever. The underlying teamwork made the team director emotional.
“In 2013 we took over from Rabobank. For four years it was survival, trying to be there the following year.”
“From 2016, we have gone up the road and established an organization on which we could build successes like this.”
“This year is such a nice reward for the commitment and energy that so many people have put into the team. That is reflected in the first place in the world ranking for us. I really had to shed a tear.”
Watch the Tour documentary Code Geel about the Tour of Jumbo-Visma below: