A Day With: South African cyclist Louis Meintjes

Matt Jones 20/01/2017
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Meintjes will represent the new team from Abu Dhabi.

The 2016 season was a breakout one for Louis Meintjes, in which he finally joined the elite.

The 24-year-old South African finished eighth overall at the Tour de France, 6mins 58secs off winner Chris Froome, and took second in the young rider classification behind another Brit, Adam Yates. He followed that up with seventh place in the men’s road race at the Olympics, just 22 seconds adrift of gold medalist Greg Van Avermaet.

Now that he’s got a seat at cycling’s top table he’s determined not just to stay there, but compete and beat the best. Meintjes was named as a rider for Team UAE Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago and is currently racing in the season-opening Tour Down Under.

Sport360 caught up with him in the capital.

How excited are you about the new season ahead?

It’s been a crazy few months with a lot of uncertainty but it’s exciting now. It’s finally now time to sit down with some solid goals and start working towards something.

How was the off-season?

It was good, pretty long, back in South Africa for most of the time. The main goal was to spend time with family and catch up with friends, just relax.

And training too, of course?

Yeah. Training was pretty good. I’m not going to be flying for the first few months but the main goal is to be ready for the Tour de France again and I think, for that, everything is on track.

What are you main aims for the season?

If I can improve on the season I’ve had, I will be super happy. Having a good Tour de France again will be amazing. As a team as well, if we can be part of something successful, that will also be very good.

It was a brilliant season for you in 2016. How do you reflect on it?

If I knew at the start of last season what results I would get, I would have taken it. It’s given me a lot of confidence because up until the start of last season it had been a lot of work just trying to get up to that front group.

Finally, last year, I have been able to get there, and now it’s the plan to get out of that front group and hopefully be ahead of them, now that I’m up there among the elite names.

You always look at the races and wonder if you have that natural ability to do it and you can never be 100 per cent certain until you do it. I feel I’ve been pretty close to there and now I feel it’s not an unrealistic step to finish in front of them.

That’s definitely the main focus and my attitude this season, not just to stay there.

So will the Grand Tours be the races you focus on more this season?

Yeah, I think so. It’s one of my strengths. I can be consistent over a few weeks. It will be my focus to do that and keep trying to improve on it.

What’s the big dream?

To win the Tour de France. It’s the biggest race. Also the World Championships is always a special race so if it’s a good circuit and the weather’s good, then I can maybe try and aim for that too.

After Lampre-Merida’s demise last season, were there fears for the future and whether you’d get a ride anywhere this season?

There always is but there’s always so many unpredictable things in cycling. There’s only one thing you can control, so you switch off and worry about the thing you can control. At the end of the day, if you make sure you ride your bike well everything will turn out fine.

Lampre were a top team but always a bit off the pace when it came to trophies. Do you look at the rest of the team now and think ‘we can do well this season’ or in the future?

Yeah, we definitely have some good riders. We don’t have as many big riders as some of the other teams, but it’s professional cycling, it’s a sport. It’s a level playing field and you try to make the best out of it. You don’t always have to be the best to win it, you just have to play the game the best.

I have my team and team-mates and we’re going out there and playing this game in order to come out as well as we possibly can.

With the new team being backed by the UAE, how big will you and the team be looking to make an impact on home soil and the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour?

It will definitely be the aim of some of the riders. I don’t think it’s going to be the number one aim for me, but we’re going to come here with a strong team and be highly motivated. If we have local support, I think that will be helpful.

Having grown up in a rugby and cricket-mad country like South Africa, how did you end up cycling?

I never really excelled in any of the other sports and when I tried cycling I was good at it, so it was nice. And it was about the challenge, too. Everyone thought it was impossible and I thought I’d give it a bash and try and do something worth remembering. That was a big part of turning professional, for me.

Who were your cycling heroes when you were starting out?

When I’d just started out, Robbie Hunter had just won his first stage (at the Tour de France), so that played a role. Seeing guys like Daryl Impey and John-Lee Augustyn all turning pro and starting at the same place as me, doing the local races. They were proving it’s not impossible if you do the hard work.

That really helped having them paving the way. Chris Froome too, as he also spent quite a bit of his high school career in South Africa doing local races. If he can come from his background and go all the way to where he is, it inspires you. It was also perfect timing because they were constantly motivating me. They’d do it year after year.

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Nibali targeting success with Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team

Matt Jones 8/01/2017
Nibali will lead the Bahrain outfit.

He is one of just six riders to have won cycling’s coveted Grand Tour triple crown and Vincenzo Nibali insists he chose to join Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team because he believes he can win more major titles with the Middle East outfit.

Bahrain Merida made history in November when it became the first Gulf team to be awarded UCI World Tour status for the 2017 season.

Nibali – who joined an elite group containing iconic names such as Jacques Anquetil, Alberto Contador, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx when he won the 2014 Tour de France – has no doubt he can extend his legacy with Bahrain Merida.

“It’s very simple. Bahrain have one World Tour team. The team was formed to do Grand Tour races and it has Grand Tour riders,” Nibali said at the team’s launch, held at team president His Highness Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa’s office in the Kingdom.

“Not only Grand Tours but we have good young riders. We have many stage riders, time trial riders and sprinters. It’s a great mix of riders.”

The 32-year-old Italian will cement that legacy if he can make it a hat-trick of Giro d’Italia crowns this year after winning his second in 2016, adding that to his maiden Giro title in 2013 as well as his Tour de France and 2010 Vuelta a Espana triumphs.

He will captain the new team and will be joined by 26 other riders.

Despite severing ties with giants Astana after four successful years in the off-season, Nibali revealed the seeds for joining a Bahrain-based World Tour team were actually sewn during a leisurely bike ride with Sheikh Nasser in 2015.

“I came to Dubai in January 2015 (for the Dubai Tour) and came to Bahrain before it and had a ride with Sheikh Nasser,” said Nibali.

“It was a nice afternoon and he’s a big cycling fan. We talked then about a team and now it is a reality. For people here it’s a dream.”

Sheikh Nasser, who is also president of the Bahrain Cycling Association, has high hopes for his new venture.

“We have created a team with the best riders in the world,” he said.

“We have hopes for them. We will conquer a lot of races, we will compete in a lot and we will be there at the front of many races, going as hard as we can.”

After Bahrain finished as the highest Arab nation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio – 48th in the medal table thanks to the gold and silver won by Kenyan-born women Ruth Jebet in the 3,000m steeplechase and Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa in the marathon – His Highness feels the nation is beginning to establish itself as the leading nation in the region.

He added: “We want to show the world that Bahrain is capable of not just organising small events but capable of competing. We have the Formula One race as a great example. We are the number one Arabic country in the Olympics. We had the highest number of medals at Rio.

“I have no doubt that Bahrain Merida is going to be a success. We are going to be one of the toughest teams around the UCI.”

Bahrain Merida team manager Brent Copeland stated that while victories will be important in the team’s debut campaign, establishing themselves and consistency will be key.

“There’s many goals. Victories are important, it showcases the name and the jersey, but for us the biggest goal is the image,” said the South African former Lampre Merida head.

“We want an organised team, we want everyone to give their best, the staff and the riders. If everyone gives their best victories come as a consequence.

“We don’t want to target one race or another. We start racing in Australia next week and all the way through to October in China. In every race we enter we want our riders to give their best, that’s the main goal.”

He echoed His Highness’ belief that the future is bright for Bahrain.

“We have seen before that Bahrain has been a leader in the Arab sporting world, becoming the first nation to host a Formula One Grand Prix, and now they have made history again by becoming the first GCC nation to gain a World Tour licence,” he added.

“Now we are here we would like to assure everyone that we have put the best possible team together, both in terms of riders and staff. Together we will bring continuity to the team and will strive to be the best.”

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Guardini confirms AD stage win as major goal of 2017

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The 27-year-old was won the first stage at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour and is targeting another victory in his new team jersey this season.

“My big goal is to win here (in Abu Dhabi) again. It would be really nice to win with this jersey,” he said.

“It’s important for us as we are the name of a nation. We are proud of this because we can bring this name around the world in races. We will try to make it possible to win with this name.”

The former Astana rider was joined by his new colleagues at the launch of the team in the capital last week, including South Africa’s Louis Meintjes, Slovenian Matej Mohoric, Italian duo Filippo Ganna, Rui Costa, and UAE rider Yousif Mirza.










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