The Australian road race champion Luke Plapp finished second in stage four of Paris-Nice on a day that included plenty of climbing and an uphill finish at Mont Brouilly. The 23-year-old began the race with GC aspirations… and his ambitious, attacking attitude has earned him a stint in the yellow jersey.

By Rob Arnold (Photos via ASO)


Luke Plapp is taking on some of the world’s best in the 82nd edition of Paris-Nice and in stage four he demonstrated that he has what it takes to lead GC. With a second place behind the Colombian climber Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) the Australian champion rose up the rankings from seventh, and into the lead of the race.

Attacking with around 24km to go on a day that included rain in the final hour, as well as a double ascent of Mont Brouilly in the Beaujolais hills, Plapp outwitted the likes of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep), Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Primoz Roglic (Bora-Hansgrohe) to steal the yellow jersey from overnight leader Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).

Although he isn’t shy about his ambitions for a strong result on GC, Plapp also has reason to be satisfied with what he achieved in the first week of his Paris-Nice debut. “This is more than I ever could have imagined,” he said after taking the yellow jersey in stage four. “Anything else now is a bonus.”

Ultimately Plapp would surrender 10 seconds to Buitrago who joined him on the attack 22km from the finish, but he scored a time bonus for second place and time gains on Skjelmose and Evenepoel . It means he now leads the Colombian stage winner on GC with an advantage of 13 seconds. Former yellow jersey McNulty slipped to third place at 27 seconds.

Remco Evenepoel finished fourth in stage four and jumped up from eighth on GC to fifth, 30 seconds behind the new Australian race leader.

During the stage it was clear that pre-race favourites Evenepoel and Roglic were intent on scoring time gains whenever possible. At the intermediate sprint after 150km, former race leader Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) – who wears the green jersey – went on the hunt for more points but he was soon swamped by the Belgian and Slovenian who crossed the line ahead of the Kiwi. That pair wasn’t interested in points, but they trimmed six and four seconds from their GC time thanks to the bonuses on offer.

Evenepoel is one of the most charismatic riders in the peloton and when he decides it’s time to light up the action, he often scores a major result. In stage four it was a case of close… but not quite close enough to get the yellow jersey in what is his first pro race in France.

The Belgian champion surged in the final kilometres but couldn’t shake the Danish champion at the end. Skjelmose zipped past Evenepoel at the very end to take third place and the four-second bonus. It was exciting racing and a clear show of form from two title favourites but Plapp had already done enough to take the GC lead.

“I really tried to race that last climb like a time trial and race it to the line,” said Plapp of his tactics for the finale. “I think that gave me the best time possible rather than if I raced it and then blew up.”

Four stages, four GC leaders

It has been a ‘Race To The Sun’ for the ANZAC riders in 2024 with Laurence Pithie showing consistency in the first WorldTour stage race in France for the season. The 21-year-old was third on the opening day and runner-up in stage two. He enjoyed a day in the lead of GC early in the week, racing the team time trial in the yellow jersey before relinquishing it to McNulty after UAE Team Emirates’ win in stage three.

Pithie is the first New Zealander to lead GC in the long history of Paris-Nice. He continues to lead the points classification, eight points ahead of former world champion Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek).

Plapp swapped his green-and-gold national champion’s colours for the yellow jersey as race leader after two successive second place stage finishes – the first in the TTT (5.71 seconds behing UAE in Auxerre), the next atop Mont Bouilly. It was enough to deliver him to the podium for a couple of appearances: one yellow jersey, and one white jersey… and a cheeky, satisfied grin as the new race leader.

Although he raced in black knicks, the podium time gave Plapp the opportunity to wear a pair of white knicks – something he joked about at the start of the season after he claimed the national championship win for the third year in a row.

“I’m blown away by how it unfolded to be honest. It was quite a weird way that it all played out, but I am really happy.”

He’s young and brash and part of the new generation of riders who are prepared to risk a little to gain a lot. Plapp might have had the slight benefit of not being one of The Marked Riders up until this point but now that he leads both the general and youth classifications, he will be more closely monitored by Roglic, Evenepoel and co as they race towards Nice.

Matthias Skjelmose matched the surges by Evenepoel on the final climb and then pipped him at the line for third place.

After four days of racing in Paris-Nice there have been four GC leaders: Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease A Bike), Pithie, McNulty, and now Plapp.

Stage four is one of three classified ‘Mountain’, with the other two rounding out the race on the weekend. The Beaujolais hills provided the backdrop for compelling racing, a Colombian victory, and another display of quality riding by Plapp. Next on the menu is an undulating 193km stage to Sisteron then a transition further south before the final weekend.

“It has been a nice start,” said Plapp of his days in Paris-Nice. “It’s really exciting. We have such a diverse team here that every day we’re here to win, whether it is a sprint stage, the TTT yesterday or today. It’s really good fun racing with the team.”


– By Rob Arnold

Santiago Buitrago took the win at Mont Brouilly on the same day a team-mate, Phil Bauhaus, won the third stage of Tirreno-Adriatico.