Louis Meintjes admitted he still felt tired as he headed to the start of the stage to Rodez but was also quietly proud of his fifth place on the tough mountain stage to Plateau de Beille.
The MTN-Qhubeka rider and African continental champion was in the break of the day, making the key selection, before he crashed hard on a wet decent but got back up to fight all the way to the finish atop Plateau de Beille - arguably the toughest mountain finish in this year’s Tour de France.
Meintjes is still only 23 and has already shown signs of his climbing talent but performing so well at the Tour de France has boosted his confidence in his own ability, and convinced him that he can take on the best in the world.
“It was tough to sleep because of my injuries but the satisfaction of doing a good ride helps cancel out the pain a little bit,” Meintjes told Cyclingnews as he headed to the start of 13 in Muret.
He has no regrets about the crash and what he could have done. “It’s always nice when you have something to show for what you went through. It’s definitely better than crashing and finishing at the back,” he said.
“You can never say (how it would have gone) because there are so many things involved but you have to be able to stay on your bike to win the race. It’s just one of those things.”
MTN-Qhubeka team manager Brian Smith is convinced that Meintjes produced a breakthrough performance in the Pyrenees that will boost his confidence and allow him to produce similar performances in the future, perhaps even in the Alpine stages later in the Tour de France.
“He’s sore now after the crash but his confidence is sky high,” Smith told Cyclingnews. “Since the start of the Tour we’ve been telling him that he can do rides like that. On the morning of the stage to the Mur de Huy we said: ‘we’re going with you today’ and he said: ‘give me 24 hours’ notice next time’. But it doesn’t happen like that in pro cycling and especially at the Tour de France.”
He’s still trying to find to his place in the peloton but he’s been sitting too far back. If you do that in the Tour de France you miss so many chances. Yesterday I told Edvald Boasson Hagen to make sure he took Louis to the front and got him in that first move. That happened and he went on to do a great ride. Now he knows, he’s gained a lot of confidence and he knows he’s got a team that will help him.
“It’s never easy for a young guy to come into the Tour de France and get respect from the big names and the strongest teams. But you’ve got to try to break down that respect barrier and ride your own race. Yesterday was his goal and he road incredibly well. He even crashed but he didn’t panic, he got back up and rode so well all the way to the finish. We’re really proud of him.”
This is year’s Tour de France is a huge baptism of fire for the MTN-Qhubeka team, and for Meintjes, but the team has showed that it deserved its wild card invitation to the race and is proudly flying the flag for African cycling.
“Every now and then it goes through your mind that ‘Wow. This is pretty big stuff.’ Meintjes told Cyclingnews. “The Tour de France is a pretty crazy race. You ride your bike and you think ‘This is the stuff I’ve been watching on TV for the last few years and dreaming about doing myself.’”
Meintjes will need a few days to recover from his crash injuries and his huge effort in the Pyrenees but he and the team are looking ahead to more opportunities in the Alps.
“I still believe we can get more from Louis in the Alps,” Smith said. “We need him to recover in the next few days and get focused for the ‘Alps. We believe that if he gets in the break again, there can be another great opportunity for him.”
“Today I’m pretty sore and so we’ll see how my body reacts but take every opportunity that comes,” Meintjes said. “It (my ride) has given me extra motivation and encouragement. Being able to be up there is good, so I’ll give it another go in the Alps.”