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.”