Louis Meintjes made South African cycling history when he became the highest South African finisher in the General Classification (GC) at this year’s Tour de France. The Lampre Merida rider finished the gruelling 21-day Tour in eighth* place on the GC and was the second highest finisher in the Young Rider’s (White Jersey) Classification.
The 24-year-old acknowledged that he had experienced terrible luck early in the season and although he knew that his form was good, illnesses and crashes set him back from achieving early season results.
“Finally when I arrived at the Dauphine and the Tour de France there were no problems and I was able to deliver a good race and a good result and I’m really happy about that,” he said from his high-altitude training camp. “Joining Team Lampre was an exciting experience – I’m really comfortable in the team and they really went out of their way to make sure that I integrated into the team well.”
After being forced to withdraw from last year’s Tour due to an illness, Meintjes had unfinished business. “It was always the plan to prepare for Tour de France this year and to try and go for a GC result. It was really nice that it all came together at the Tour.”
His new team has been supportive of his goals this season. “We were hoping for a top 10 and to compete for the White Jersey so it was nice that that goal was achieved,” said Meintjes. “The result could’ve been a bit better but eighth place is something that I can be very happy with. It was a real team effort.”
With the goal in mind and his full focus placed on the task ahead, Meintjes only really knew that a top 10 was possible during the final week of the three-week tour. “The Tour de France is really unpredictable and it depends a lot on how the other riders ride. It was really hard to say, even in the first week, that a top 10 was possible. My legs felt good and everything was going well. Only in the last week did I realise that it was possible.”
With a momentous achievement behind him, the Rustenberg local only has two weeks to prepare for another major milestone in his life – to represent his country at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. “My motivation is really high – it is such an honour to go and I am really happy to be selected. I’m currently at altitude training and preparing and hopefully everything goes well.
“I haven’t had the chance to ride the Olympic route, but preparations have been really good and the Tour has been perfect preparation for the Olympics and it gave me some confidence. We don't often have the chance to race as a national team so it’s going to be different to other races and very unpredictable. I definitely want to go there and show that South Africa is in the race and making the race; I want to be up there and show the South African flag.”
Adding to the impression that the South Africans left on this year’s 103rd edition, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s victories in the first week will long be remembered. With four stage wins in the first seven days of racing, five stage wins overall – four from Mark Cavendish (GBR) and one from Stephen Cummings (GBR) – and multiple top-10 finishes throughout the Tour, a yellow jersey and green jersey, Douglas Ryder’s “African Team” once again rode their way into the hearts of many a supporter. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg rode impressively throughout and finished the final day in Paris with a 10th place.
Orica-BikeExchange’s Daryl Impey delivered a solid result on Stage 7 when he summited the Lac de Payolle in second place behind Cummings, a phenomenal achievement for the sprinter; and his support throughout the race to his team, particularly in Stage 10 when he led teammate Michael Matthews (AUS) to victory in a commanding breakaway, was incredible to watch.
Meintjes and Impey will compete in the Men’s Road Race at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at Fort Copacabana on Saturday 6 August.