The saying 'never go back' isn't one that Louis Meintjes dwelled upon when he re-signed with Dimension Data, and all indications so far are that the South African has settled back with his old team after a two-year sabbatical with Lampre and UAE Team Emirates.
Starting his season at the Volta ao Algarve, the 25-year-old put in a respectable performance on the first summit finish of the race, and although his ride in the individual time trial on Friday was below his best, Meintjes is relaxed about his form as he builds towards the Giro d'Italia in May.
"I'm here to see if I'm on track. If the form is good then you can try and get something for your work but it's not a major goal, in that we come here looking to start with a bang. It's not the end of the world if we still see there's more work to be done," he told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 1.
Four stages later and Meintjes can be relatively content with his ride so far. He is a notoriously quiet at this point in the year, tending to find form in late spring and summer. Friday's individual test against the clock was his first competitive outing on his Cervelo time trial bike, and although the result didn't stand out, the climber still took positives from the experience.
"The time trial could have gone better," he said. "It wasn't a disaster, but I need some improving. This is my first time here, and the guys say that Sunday's climb should be better for me. I'll give it another go, and I felt good on the climb the other day. If everything goes well, then it could be a good day.
"Friday was my first real hit on the new time trial bike, and going full gas. I felt good, I just wasn't as fast as I would have liked."
With one stage remaining, Meintjes sits 18th on GC, although Sunday's summit finish does suit his characteristics.
After Algarve, the Dimension Data rider will head to Tirreno-Adriatico, Catalunya and then the Tour of the Alps – his final race before a tilt at the Giro d'Italia. He will also race the Vuelta a Espana later in the summer, but the Giro is a departure from previous programmes. In the last three seasons, Meintjes has raced the Tour de France and picked up two top-10 results for his efforts.
"It's to do with the courses, and the Tour has a really tricky first week," he replied when asked about his race plan.
"I think it will be harder for a rider like me to do a good GC in this year's Tour."
Meintjes left Dimension Data [at the time called MTN-Qhubeka, ed.] in 2015 when the team's former manager, Brent Copeland, brought him to Lampre on a two-year deal. The partnership only lasted a season, with Copeland leaving to set up the Bahrain Merida project at the start of 2017.
Copeland tried to bring Meintjes with him but was unable to cut the cord with Lampre's paying agent, who owned the contract. When Meintjes came back on the market last summer, Copeland was once again interested in the rider's services but Dimension Data rekindled their affair with the rider with a new two-year deal.
"It's been pretty good so far, and it's been relaxed. I guess it's always been part of the plan, coming back here. At least in the bigger picture. It's comfortable situation and also there's some pride, with all the fans back home," he told Cyclingnews.
"It's a home team. It was sad to leave but at that time I was also excited to learn new things. I learned a lot and it gave me some confidence and opportunities. It's not something that I regret. It's really nice to be back and part of this project.
"I would have liked to have kept working with Brent if the option had been there, but at the end of the day I already had a year with all the guys at Lampre, so it wasn't like a major setback or something like that."
The fundamental question for Meintjes is whether he can kick on and turn two eighth places at the Tour and a 10th at the Vuelta into a top five or higher at the Giro.
"I'm trying to figure that out, and hopefully I'll keep improving. Hopefully, experience helps. The support here is amazing, and hopefully, with a good build up we can manage it. It's really exciting and the Tour is a lot of stress, so it's going to be a bit less to deal with at the Giro."
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