Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) was once a Tour de France contender and twice finished in the top 10 of the sport's biggest event. But the rider who once battled Simon Yates for the Tour's best young rider classification has seen his star fade before it could crest in recent years.
The win in the UCI 1.1-ranked race was Meintjes' first since a 2015 victory in the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali.
"This victory came a little unexpected and that's why it tastes so sweet," Meintjes said in a press release. "I made a lot of efforts these last couple of weeks to build my form, for example during a team altitude camp in Andorra. It pleased me to see how motivated everyone was to work hard. I was rewarded with nice results this week and I hope that my current condition will bring me more nice moments. I'm traveling to the Critérium du Dauphiné with a reinforced confidence!"
Meintjes was part of a counter-attack after his team worked to reel in the day's early breakaway ahead of the Pietralavezzara, 6.2km climb that averages 7.7%, and on the climb Meintjes and teammates Quinten Hermans, Lorenzo Rota and Georg Zimmermann all made the 12-man split at the front.
Then, on the final climb, the Madonna della Guardia (6.9 km at 7.9%), Meintjes and Zimmermann made a second split of nine. Zimmermann launched a move on the flat 15km run-in to Genoa and when that was caught, Meintjes attacked and got away to take the victory by 1:37 on the chasers. Another African, Natnael Tesfatsion (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli) took second in the sprint behind.
"It is an unbelievable feeling to be a part of such a strong team," Meintjes said. "From the start, Kobe Goossens and Simone Petilli controlled the race until I took over on the penultimate climb in order to make the final hard.
"The course suited Quinten Hermans and Lorenzo Rota really well and our initial goal was to give them the opportunity to start the last flat part towards the centre of Genova in a select group. But in the end, it turned out different, I was in the lead of the race with three other riders," Meintjes said of the breakaway that made it over the Madonna della Guardia.
"I slowed down a little to enable Georg Zimmermann to join us. I still had good legs and his presence would make it easier to slip away. When he made the junction, we both noticed that our competitors hesitated. Georg motivated me to commit 100% and that's how I rode solo towards my first victory in seven years."
Meintjes, who signed a contract extension with Intermarché last fall, said the team helped him get back to his former level. The South African finished third overall in the Giro di Sicilia, his first stage race podium since that 2015 victory.
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert are on a high after placing two riders in the top 10 of the Giro d'Italia and having Rota take second on the stage to Genoa, won by Alpecin-Fenix's Stefano Oldani. Director Sportif Valerio Piva explained that Rota crashed during the race Thursday and followed the action from the team car.
"Individually, our riders were very strong today. Not less than four riders followed the first group on top of Pietralavezzara. The race development was perfect for us, until Rota crashed a second time in the downhill and fell into the ravine with five others, because of oil on the road. Luckily, he only sustained abrasions.
"From the team car Rota could follow the fantastic victory of Meintjes, who perfectly executed our strategy by making a selection on the final climb. It was incredible to see how our South African climber managed the flat final, with the support of a strong Zimmermann."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.