Meintjes: A hot tip to challenge Froome
Race in Belgium the turning point for South African rider
DURING last year’s Tour de France, a slightly cruel and mocking meme of Louis Meintjes did the rounds. Meintjes, then 23 years old, was sitting with the rest of the MTN-Qhubeka Tour de France squad, looking younger than his years, like a schoolboy, and above his head was the legend: “Best school outing ever!”
He never got to finish the “school outing”, forced out after suffering illness towards the end of a Tour in which he had finished fifth on the 12th stage after a hard crash. So he had unfinished business with the Tour. This year he returned with Lampre-Merida, the Italian team. There were no more memes of the man with the schoolboy face, no more jokes.
The 24-year old with calm steel in his eyes and voice rode to eighth overall, second attack. The last day was challenging for me when (Joaquim) Rodriquez and (Roman) Kreuziger attacked. I knew they were threatening my place on GC but all I could do was hang onto the group of favourites.”
There was confusion after the final stage as Meintjes looked to have been given seventh place, having opened a gap to Rodriquez, who was riding in his final Tour. But after the race jury had deliberated on Sunday evening, the results were rounded off and time gaps shortened. Meintjes finished with the same time as Rodriquez, six minutes and 58 seconds behind Froome, but remained in eighth on a countback.
“It was disappointing because there are UCI points and seventh place would have been better but that’s just how things go,” said Meintjes, who had finished at the back with the front group of sprinters, 31 seconds ahead of Rodriguez. “I was really concentrating, looking for a place to move up and I was very aware of the riders who were just behind me on the overall by just a few seconds so I was paying attention to not lose any time to them.
“I was really nervous until the last moment. I really wanted to make sure I finished and didn’t have time to think until I crossed the finish line. It was a special moment when I crossed the finish line. I felt a mixture of relief and was really proud. It was amazing to see the support from so many South Africans.”
The easy option for Meintjes last year would have been to stay with Dimension Data. It was the team he’d grown up with, a South African outfit with South African riders. After agreeing terms with Dimension Data to extend his contract, he announced during last year’s Vuelta a Espana that he would be moving to Lampre-Merida, the team of his agent, Robbie Hunter.
Some questioned the move. Dimension Data were on the verge of moving up to World Tour status and, subsequently, Lampre has a smaller budget than Dimension Data this year. The then Dimension Data team manager, Brian Smith, said he believed Meintjes would return to his “home” one day.
“I’ve definitely learnt a lot at Lampre-Merida. You learn small things from everyone and all that accumulates to make a difference. When you come to a new team, you are exposed to a completely new environment and you get a whole new perspective and take it all in.” He and former world champion, Rui Costa, were co-leaders for Lampre at the Tour and developed a good understanding. “We rode really well together and Rui having a leadership role took some of the pressure off me. He helped me through some of the stages. We had a young team at the race so we can be even more proud with the result we got. It was nice to have Rui there to guide us and show us how to get results.”
Froome tells of how he began to believe he could compete at the top level during the 2012 Vuelta, when he finished second, a race he could have won had he not been ordered to look after Bradley Wiggins. For Meintjes, the breakthrough moment, when he began to believe, came in a classic in Belgium.
“For me it was when I finished 11th in LiegeBastogne-Liege last year. To be in the front group with those guys was a big moment for me. They were the best riders in the world and it was a hard race. The result at worlds was a big one but you’re only racing the best under-23’s in the world where as Liege had the best guys in all ages in top form.” And now to the Olympics, where Meintjes will be one of a two-man South African team for the road race along with Daryl Impey, who comes off a good Tour de France with a second place on the seventh stage. The course suits Meintjes well, but South Africa will be out- manned. Still, being on his own suited Meintjes during the Tour.
“I think it’s a good course and if everything goes well a good result is possible. It’s really hard to say what the tactics will be. It will be seeing what the bigger nations do and reading the race, looking for an opportunity. Daryl and I both had good Tours. We will see what will happen.”
SCHOOL IS OUT: Louis Meintjes has proved he can mix it with the best at this year’s Tour de France.