He and others involved in the management of the MTN-Qhubeka team are currently working hard towards the 2016 season, a time when the squad will become known as Team Dimension Data and will feature riders of the calibre of Mark Cavendish.
However, much as the team will expand and – all going to plan – step up to WorldTour level, team principal Douglas Ryder will miss the presence of a rider who was part of the squad for three years.
In early September Louis Meintjes announced that he was leaving the team, with the 23 year old heading to Lampre-Merida. The news was something that shocked many, including Ryder, and he recently told CyclingTips that he was still coming to terms with it.
“It is like a gaping wound that I can’t seal thus far. It was very hard for me,” he said, describing the hurt he felt. “It was very hard for me, it was very hard for our coaches, it was very hard for our directors. It was very hard. We didn’t even see it coming – we had a commitment at the Tour de France that he would stay with the team. It was tough, it was very tough for us.”
Meintjes raced with the Lotto-Belisol under 23 team in 2012. The South African won the national under 23 championships that year and placed second in the road race; he was also fifth overall in the Sea Otter Classic and sixth in the Tour des Pays de Savoie.
Signing with MTN-Qhubeka for the 2013 season, he won both under 23 titles at home, finished second in the Elite nationals and – significantly – was runner-up in both the world under 23 road race championships and the Tour of Rwanda.
He continued his development over the next two years, taking the treble of national road race chapionships and both under 23 titles in 2014 and – significantly – winning a stage plus the overall in the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali this season. He underlined his talent in September when he finished tenth overall in the Vuelta a España.
His performance there marked him out as a huge talent for South Africa, but Ryder’s wish to continue working with him dissolved when the news of his move to Lampre-Merida emerged on September 3.
He’s clearly upset. “We have accepted it and moved on, but we build this team for guys like him,” he said. “We had him for three years in our team and now, at the time when he is about to do his best work, he goes to another team.
“It was a three year investment of putting the whole structure in place so he can exist in Europe, with all the challenges of bringing a South African into Europe and creating a life for them, and now we lose him.”
Because of situations like that, he feels that things need to change in the rules of the sport. “It’s why getting a transfer fee for building someone up to a point to where a WorldTour team can just take them should be implemented,” he stated.
Currently large teams don’t have to pay any transfer fee. Others such as Sean Kelly – who has seen riders such as Sam Bennett step up from the An Post Sean Kelly team to bigger teams – have argued that there should be some form of compensation for the development of such riders.
“We feel like we did a lot for him, not putting any pressure on his performances, giving him everything, all the tools to enjoy cycling and live the dream and do the best that he can,” Ryder continued. “Yet he is poached to another team. It was sad for us, of course, but anyway.”
Despite his obvious hurt, he said that the team would be open to negotiations down the line.
“We wish him the best,” he said. “The door is open for him to come back for sure because that is the kind of people we are – we don’t hold grudges. He obviously had a reason that we don’t know about. We don’t know if it is was money or whatever. We unfortunately didn’t get to understand that, which is bad, actually, and quite bizarre. But it is what it is…”