After stepping up a level in the Vuelta a España Louis Meintjes has spoken about his improved confidence and what is a confirmation of his talent, saying that with a little more time he believes he will be a bona fide contender for Grand Tour races.
“I think with one or two more years of experience and a little more depth I could be right up there,” he said, speaking after netting tenth in the Spanish tour.
“[That means] to be right next to them instead of suffering on their wheels. My approach has always been to take it step by step up a level, and I feel like my progression has been on track.”
Meintjes’ result is the best Grand Tour finish thus far by a South African rider and highlighted ability which was already seen in numerous races.
His past results include second in the world under 23 championship in 2013 and a stage win plus overall victory in this year’s Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali.
The Vuelta result is a level above, though, and proves that at 23 he is on track for a huge career.
Despite his youth, he said that he went into the race in an ambitious frame of mind.
“Already on the first stage during the TTT I felt really good…I started thinking about giving GC a go. So I thought for the first few days, let’s try and hang on for GC and see how it goes.
“After the first hilltop finish I decided to give the GC I go once I saw how I was riding compared to the other guys.”
Asked how that experience was, he said that having such a long-term focus is much more difficult than simply aiming for a stage win.
“It’s a lot more stressful because you have to go out there and concentrate every day,” he said. “It takes quite a bit of effort to be switched on for 21 days of racing.”
Weighing up a three week tour
Meintjes’ highest result on a stage was ninth on stage seven. He crossed the line seven seconds behind the eventual race winner Fabio Aru (Astana) and finished in the same time as the other two riders who ended up on the podium, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Looking back, he considers that a better result might have been possible. “My best day on the bike was during stage seven to La Alpujarra,” he said, assessing the race.
“I feel like I held back and waiting too long. Looking back, I probably could have gone earlier.”
More analysis of his ride will likely follow as time passes after the event. He’ll be in a better position to weigh things up then; right now, things are still sinking in.
“I think it will take some time before I realise what I’ve done,” he said. “At the moment I’m just happy that I got something out of the Vuelta and will reflect on it some more after the race.
Meintjes’ career is picking up speed and 2016 will see him change colours. He was expected to remain with MTN-Qhubeka but is now set to move to Lampre-Merida, thus beginning the next phase.
He’s keen to thank MTN-Qhubeka for its help, describing it as being integral to what he achieved. The squad has had a standout year, winning a stage in the Tour with Steve Cummings, taking another in the Vuelta with Kristian Sbaragli and, having selected seven Africans amongst the lineup for the Spanish tour, finishing with all nine riders in Madrid.
“It definitely was a team effort,” Meintjes said, recognising the help he got. “The fact that it was such an African line up in the team is something we can really be proud of.
“I get the result but it was a truly African team that made it happen. It was really important because if it wasn’t for those two days the team rode on the front, I would not have achieved this.”
Thanks to Xylon van Eyck for his input to this article.