9 October 2019

After fracturing a femur in a serious altercation with a tree in an enduro event in Rotorua in February, former UCI XCE World Champion, Paul van der Ploeg got career ending advice from a doctor that no athlete wants to hear.

Orthopaedic surgeons treating him said that his days as a competitive rider were over, but ‘Vanders’ had other ideas. Six months after the accident he made his debut at Reef to Reef with brother Neil, grabbing a stage win along the way.

“In New Zealand just flew into a tree and landed hip first. I do not recommend it, breaking a leg is the worst thing that I have ever done, the pain is indescribable. It was brutal and it has been a rough year. The tree won, it didn’t move.”

“Breaking your femur is not super fun but having the support of my brother Neil, and Trekky (Brendan Johnston) and Jon Odams both GIANT riders as well, helped us secure a stage win at Reef to Reef on the third day which was awesome. I got a bit emotional after that because when you have orthopaedic surgeons saying you will not be a competitive cyclist after such a serious injury it makes you question if they are qualified. But I like to ignore those sorts of things and push through to see what the body can do.”

“Since Reef to Reef I have been in the Victorian High Country training up there and trying to get in some consistent riding. Just getting out as many times as you can is the key. I can’t over do it and have to do a bit of a balancing act and I am still seeing the physio and doing strength and conditioning three times a week to make sure the leg is steadily getting stronger. I still have a massive imbalance between the two legs. My left leg, used to be the weaker leg is now the strong leg and I have had to drop my seat height a little bit and modify a few things to make sure the injured leg doesn’t get over strained. But it is all part of the journey,” he said.

The next piece in the puzzle of Paul resurrecting his racing career is a return to the iconic Cape to Cape.

“I was having a think about that the other day and I think it is my seventh Cape to Cape. I did it first in 2013 and it always is a cool way to finish the year. Everyone is there for fun and while the racing is serious, outside of that you get to chill out a bit.”

“I am really looking forward to getting to Cape to Cape. It is a cool one this year because my girlfriend, mum and dad are coming over. We have rented a house on the beach and it is going to be a real family affair. I have been trying to convince my parents to come over for about five years and be support for the event and check out all the fuss in Margaret River in October.”

Family has always been important to Paul who had an idyllic childhood growing up in the mecca for mountain biking in Australia, Mt Beauty, at the base of Falls Creek in the Victorian Alpine Region.

“Mum and dad had a ski shop and bike shop in Mt Beauty later in my childhood, so we would cross-country ski in the winter and mountain bike in the summer. so I would be working on customers bikes and roll out the door go into the MTB park and ride till dark, avoiding the kangaroos in the forest. Then come home and have dinner. It was a pretty sweet childhood.”

“All my family rode MTBs, I’m the youngest of five boys so I was always trying to keep up with my brothers. My older brother Daniel, who is six years older than me, raced the World Championships in 2001 in Vale, Colorado. I have always looked up to him and followed in his footsteps.”

As the National Mountain Bike Championships were in Mt Beauty Paul had it gift wrapped, fourth in his first year as an under 19, then won his second year as an under 19, as well as three out of four national titles in the under 23 category and a handful of podiums in the elite ranks of the cross country.

If it has pedals and two wheels Paul has had a crack at racing it, with stints with the Australian development team, plus racing for the FELT World Cup team, winning the World Cross Country Eliminator title in 2013, a full World Cup season in 2014, some road racing, a win an Elite Cyclo Cross National title in 2015 and time racing the Gravity Enduro World Series.

“I think I have been a Jack of all Trades and master of none. I have made decisions based on what I am enjoying at any given time and I like the challenge of doing different disciplines and love riding my bike.”

When he is not on his bike, Paul is often seen with microphone in hand roving around the Epic Series races and catching up on the goss in his own inimitable, in your face style.

“I have always tried to bring a bit of humour to any race I go to because that is just who I am. There are introverts and extroverts and I am an extrovert.”

After showing glimpses of old at Reef to Reef , this shy retiring wall flower is dragging brother Neil to Cape to Cape and despite the propaganda that they will be under done, they will arrive and race with all guns blazing.

“Neil was quite strong at Reef to Reef but he has told me he is still detraining, so I am a bit worried that he might have detrained too much. But I am also not super strong. We might still be okay at Cape to Cape but will have to be a bit targeted and calculating. Pairs racing is fun and adds that extra element and I really enjoy the opportunity to be able to ride with my brother again and sharing the experience.”

“We checked Trekky and Jonny out at Reef to Reef and saw there were a few cracks and chinks in the armour and I reckon we will have them at Cape to Cape. They are smaller than us, so we will be able to physically push them off the track so it should be no problem,” he said with a huge grin.