Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) heads into the Tour de France aiming for a top-five spot in the general classification and the best young rider's white jersey after finding form in last month's Criterium du Dauphine.
The South African climber finished eighth in his final outing before the Tour de France and turned in one of his best performances this season on the final mountain stage, dropping Chris Froome (Team Sky) and several other Tour de France contenders.
"Hopefully I have the same legs, if not a little bit better," Meintjes told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Tour in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Dropping Froome on the final climb of the final stage at the Dauphine was an important moment for Meintjes. The 25-year-old typically enjoys a quiet build-up in the months before a Grand Tour objective but the sight of him giving a double take as he looked back to see Froome slip from his wheel provided him with an important confidence boost.
"Froome's normally in really good form but if you can go away from him then it boosts your confidence and your morale a bit. It showed that I'm capable of contesting things in the front group. We were in a pretty select group and I could see that the other guys were really suffering but I still felt good. I took some confidence from that."
With just three summit finishes in this year's Tour de France, Meintjes's plan is to survive the first week – starting with the individual time trial in Dusseldorf – before showing his form on the stage 5 to La Planche de Belles Filles.
"The plan is to survive until there's more of a GC order and that will probably start around stage 5. For the time trial, I'm not going to win it, so the plan is to just limit my losses. There are a few less mountains but there's less time trialing too in this year's race. The climbs that are in the race are really steep and they're proper climbs that are good for me."
"The hope is to improve and if I can finish fifth I'll go home happy. I want that and to give it another shot at the white jersey."
Thinking about the future
Meintjes's contract with UAE Team Emirates expires this season and there should be no shortage of interest from other teams given his consistency in Grand Tours and his relatively young age. For now the focus remains on the Tour de France, while in the background his advisor – former rider Robbie Hunter – gathers options for 2018.
"UAE has been pretty good to me and things are coming together after the late start in the year. I've not signed anything yet," Meintjes revealed.
One option for 2018 could be one of Meintjes's former teams, Dimension Data. Meintjes has remained friends with the team's owner Doug Ryder, with the South African team still on the lookout for a Grand Tour rider.
"They're always asking, they're a South African Team. We'll only start negotiations towards the end of the year but there's always possibilities. That's all I can say. I've chatted to Doug a few times but he's a good friend, so that's normal. I'm here to focus on the race and after the Tour I'll get the fact together and see what's best for the future."
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