Meintjes fulfils African dream in Florence
South Africa claimed the sole medal at the UCI road race world championships from the African continent, and it should be no surprise it was a rider from the continent's only Professional Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka. Louis Meintjes won the silver medal in the U23 men's road race, but his success is just the tip of the iceberg.
"We identified Louis as a major talent a few years ago and I've always admired his work ethic," Douglas Ryder, the team principal of MTN-Qhubeka said. "As a team we believe he's a major star for the future, which is why we're investing heavily in athletes like him."
While South Africa previously earned a silver in the junior women's race thanks to Cherise Taylor in 2007, and Tunisia won silver in 2004 with Rafaâ Chtioui, the African continent has increased support now that it has a division two team and a service course in Italy.
While it is not unusual for professional teams to support national team riders at the world championships - BMC is with the USA, Sky with Great Britain, Lotto-Belisol with Belgium, Rabobank for the Dutch and more - because MTN-Qhubeka has its service course in nearby Lucca, it has been supporting several African nations. The team staff have been busy all week supporting riders not only from South Africa, but also riders from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Algeria and Lithuania, and not just the ones riding for the pro team. They have been behind the juniors, women and U23s as well.
"Our service course has been like a train station which has been really fun," Ryder said. "[Meintjes' medal] is a huge moment for South Africa. It shows the support, investment in coaching and race program that we have invested in is world class and drives our motivation to do more."
Meintjes himself thinks the program will produce more champions in the future. "I think this is hard work paying off. I think this is going to happen for a lot of riders in Africa and South Africa. It's just a matter of time before we see more names coming through. This is a result of what we're trying to do with Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung and the investment all our sponsors are putting in."
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