Louis Meintjes said it felt “special” to prove yet again he can compete with the best cyclists in the world after the UAE Team Emirates rider claimed eighth place at the Tour de France for a second year in a row.
Meintjes was desperate to improve on last year’s fine finish, but he insists there is no lingering disappointment after securing a consecutive top 10 spot and cementing his burgeoning reputation as a Grand Tour specialist.
The South African pocket rocket finished 8min 20sec adrift of champion Chris Froome over a grueling three weeks in France. He was 1min 22sec worse off than a year ago, although Meintjes bettered his overall General Classification finish time by nearly three hours, from 89hours 11min 46sec last year to 86h 29m 15s.
As well as mixing it with four-time Le Tour champion Froome, 25-year-old Meintjes left seven-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador (Tour de France champion in 2007 and 2009) trailing in his wake, in addition to 2014 Giro d’Italia and 2016 Vuelta a Espana champion Nairo Quintana – who finished ninth and 12th respectively.
“For me, finding myself battling on the climbs against cycling legends such as Contador, Quintana and Froome is something special, it is a prize for all the efforts I put in during training and it gives me extra motivation for trying to always do better,” said the diminutive Pretoria native, who stands just 5’ 8” tall and weighs in at just 59kg.
“Considering the level of the opponents, being in the top 10 was not easy and it’s never easy in a Grand Tour. Many things can happen during the three weeks of the race, as an example (Richie) Porte prepared for the Tour with a lot of care and suddenly, because of a crash, everything was over.
“I always like to improve and do better and better, so I would have preferred to improve the eighth place of 2016. However, I’m pretty satisfied, especially considering the quality of the opponents.
“Being in the top 10 of the Tour de France is always a very good achievement, there are riders who try several times to be in the top 10 and, for various reasons, cannot reach this goal. We came to France with the goal of a solid performance in the GC and I feel we succeeded.”
Despite his sublime performance, Meintjes was unable to claim the title of best young rider (aged 25 and under), as he finished second in the race for the white jersey to Britain’s Simon Yates of Orica-Scott – Yates’ twin brother Adam beat Meintjes to second place in the same category 12 months ago.
It was the last year of competing in the youth category as Meintjes turns 26 next February. But he is not disappointed after falling foul of the Yates family for a second year running.
“I’m proud of having performed well on the climbs and I’m already focused on trying to understand how I can do better in the future,” he said.
“I have no disappointment, I did my best and I was supported by an impressive team, which was important for me during the race and also outside the race.
“The level of all the top GC contenders was high, there were no big differences. I went, improving my fitness and performances in the last week, while Yates was maybe finding a few difficulties in the last mountains stages.
“However, this was not enough for me to overtake him in the youth classification. This year it was my last year as a youth, so winning it would have been an interesting satisfaction, however, I don’t have any regrets.
“My congratulations to Simon who managed to achieve seventh place and the white jersey.”
Meintjes also had plenty of praise for Team Sky’s Froome, 32, who won Le Tour for the third straight time, launching himself to fifth on the list of Tour de France winners – just one behind Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
“I admire everybody who succeeds in winning a Grand Tour,” added Meintjes.
“It’s difficult to describe what huge concentration you need to have during the three weeks, the sacrifices you face in the months and weeks of training before the race, the care you have to pay to every single detail.
“My best congratulations to Chris, to win once is very difficult, to win four times is something special.”
Mini Meintjes can now look forward to a small break before deciding with the UAE Team Emirates hierarchy what the next step will be for the remainder of the season.
Having competed in the last three Vueltas – including a fine 10th finish in 2015’s GC – the third and final Grand Tour race of the season is likely an option for Meintjes, starting on August 19.
“After some days of rest and recovery, I’ll check with the team’s technical staff and the trainers which could be the best programme for me for the rest of the season,” he added.
“I feel it could be good to try to exploit the type of Tour de France we have had and to try to achieve some more good results.”
It was a proud day for UAE Team Emirates as their rider Louis Meintjes finished eighth overall, ahead of two-time winner Alberto Contador, and second in the youth classification as the Tour de France drew to a close.
UAE Team Emirates’ Tour debut had a number of memorable moments including Diego Ulissi’s and Darwin Atapuma’s podium finishes in stage 15 and 18 respectively.
There were other fine efforts as well, including Laengen’s performance during stage six where he won the most aggressive rider accolade and Atapuma winning the same award following his performance in stage 18.
And thats @LeTour done ✅. . Taking a lot of good memories home. . And thanks again for all the support from back home 🇿🇦🎉🎉🎉— Louis (@LouisMeintjes) July 23, 2017
Commenting on the end of Le Tour, South African rider Meintjes said: “I think it was a good Tour, we came here with the goal of a solid performance in the GC and we tried our best.
“I don’t think eighth place is a bad result, however you always want to improve. It was a good few weeks with lots of great memories. Now we will have a week of rest in order to recover and refocus for the remainder of the season.”
Briton Chris Froome secured his fourth Tour de France title at the end of the 21st and final stage which was won by Dylan Groenewegen in Paris yesterday. Contador, meanwhile, finished behind Meintjes in ninth.
Sky’s Froome sits fifth overall in the all-time list of Tour victors behind greats Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
Ben Swift bemoaned the mistiming of taking a drink, as a day-long breakaway proved fruitless on Stage 19 of the Tour de France.
The UAE Team Emirates sprinter was part of the 20-man break that formed early on in the mammoth 222.5km stage. He felt confident of a high-placing, but missed a split late on when Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt attacked over an incline.
The Briton was left frustrated and annoyed. “I was feeling really good today, but that was a demonstration of how to mess up a race,” he said.
“I was having a quick drink and the next thing I knew there was a split with the strongest guys in the front. De Gendt did a little acceleration over the top, some others accelerated and it was hard to do anything. Once they were in the draft of the motorbikes, there is no way you can bring them back.
“It’s the Tour de France and you don’t get these opportunities a lot. It was a long day in the saddle but one little mistake and that was it, it was gone.”
Swift, 29, has finished in the top-10 of two stages, but illness in the second week set him back. He harboured hopes of an assault on the green jersey classification, but with two stages to go sits in 19th place.
“The way Michael Matthews has gone about getting that green jersey has been impressive,” he added.
“It was something I wanted to do going into the race. But it has unravelled. I had the crash and had to change my cleats. I was then sick in the second week. I’m happy to be going well in the final week. I need a fourth week.”
STAGE 19 RESULTS
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data 5:06:09
2 Nikias Arndt (Ger) ORICA – Scott 0:00:05
3 Jens Keukeleire (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:17
12 Ben Swift (GBr) UAE Team Emirates 0:01:37
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION RESULTS AFTER STAGE 19
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 83:26:55
2 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Monidale 0:00:23
3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team 0:00:29
8 Louis Meintjes (SA) UAE Team Emirates 0:06:52
YOUTH RESULTS AFTER STAGE 19
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Simon Yates (GBr) Orica – Scott 83:31:41
2 Louis Meintjes (SA) UAE Team Emirates 0:02:06
3 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bura-hansgroe 0:26:15