It's amazing how quickly time goes and it's almost time to start the first race of the season. I am starting my season off very early this year with the Tour Down Under and will be writing a couple of blogs during the race for Cyclingnews.
I spent some time with my new team Lampre-Merida at our first camp in December. It wasn't compulsory for me to go because it's a long trip from South Africa but I thought it's important to get to meet the new teammates and staff early on. I was very happy that I went. The guys are really friendly and the English is much better than I expected.
The first thing I noticed is how organised the team is, which comes with having been around for so long. Everyone seemed to know their roles and responsibilities. Some of the more experienced guys have a leadership role and there's a good structure to everything. The organisation worked like clockwork so so far it's been a good experience.
My training and approach to the season is different as I've started working with a new coach at the team. I've had more intense workouts and fewer hours on the bike. I feel really good in training but of course the real test will come when the racing starts but I'm quite enjoying the different approach. My weight is generally the same as this time last year but I feel like more form is better with more intensity.
I've had a look at the route of the Tour Down Under and it looks like stages 3 and 5 will be key ones for the overall. Every stage is important but those two seem likes the ones where there might be bigger time gaps. We're going to the race with a strong team and the motivation is high. A couple of the guys are really focused on this first part of the season and they are flying already.
It's a new team for me so I'd like to show them that I am a team player and can execute the role the team expects of me. Diego Ulissi and my old teammate from MTN-Qhubeka, Tsgabu Grmay, have done well there in the past and the race is a big focus for them. Tsgabu was actually a big decider in me coming to the team. I had a lot of questions for him and we spoke at length at the Vuelta last year. He set my mind at ease in making the decision to move there. He looked really happy and told me he wouldn't want to leave Lampre-Merida for another team.
I wasn't actually on the market shopping around for another team necessarily and was happy at MTN-Qhubeka but the amount of effort that Lampre-Merida put in getting me to join the team was incredible. It made an impression on me and made me believe I'd be treated well if they've already shown so much effort in getting me there.
It's time for me to pack and take on the long journey from South Africa to Australia. I'll write again after that first number of the season has been pinned on.
Louis Meintjes is a climber from South Africa who joined the Lampre-Merida team for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He spent the last three season with MTN-Qhubeka where he developed into one of the top up-and-coming riders in the world, riding into a top 10 overall at the Vuelta a España in 2015. Drapac sports director Tom Southam will also be writing a blog for Cyclingnews during the 2016 Tour Down Under