Vuelta a Espana: Meintjes pleased with tough first week

After two top ten finishes in his last two Grand Tours, South Africa's Louis Meintjes tackles this year's Vuelta a España free to choose - so far - whether he will go for stage wins or the overall.

Lampre-Merida lost over two minutes in the Vuelta's opening team time trial on Team Sky, but as their sports director Simone Pedrazzini told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 3, they are not yet ruling out their young leader's options in that area.

"We're still looking at the overall, we'd already thought about just going for the stages because he's already done the Tour [where he finished eighth] and we didn't want to push him too hard," Pedrazzini explained.

"So if he's good, we'll try the GC, but the main idea is for stages. Today [stage three] we'll get a better idea. There's a steep climb today [stage three] and a steadier one up to the finish tomorrow, but if he's good, he could do well on both kinds of climbs."

Meintjes ended the day losing 35 seconds to new race leader Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) and half a minute to the likes of Chris Froome (Sky) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). If he wants to target the GC, he has work to do at 2:49 from Fernandez.

Last week, Meintjes was cautiously optimistic, telling Cyclingnews that "It's the same as last year, I just have to see how the form is after the Tour. It's been a pretty long stretch with the Olympics, but there's no real pressure on me to do general classification."

"The idea for me is to try to do something, but to take it on the day by day and see." Asked which Vuelta stages suited him best, Meintjes grinned and said "Pretty much all of them are good for me, there's a lot of opportunities, I'll see which day I feel good and then go for it."

Riding his third Vuelta a España, after taking a breakthrough Grand Tour result of tenth overall last year Meintjes argued, "the jet lag from Rio has not really been a problem but I had some time off just because I kept on going after the Tour, to make sure I kept there for the Games, and I have to see how respond to that different build-up."

"I think this is the last race I'm going to target, but if the legs are good and form is good, there's no reason to waste it and sit at home.

"So here I'll roll with it and see what happens, it's actually nice having a tough first week, because I'll pretty much be able to see in first week if I'm going for GC or not. If it doesn't work, then I can just focus on certain stages."

As for Lampre-Merida's difficult start to the Vuelta, losing over two minutes and finishing last, their sports director Pedrazzini explained that "the problem was that we're not a top team time trial squad, and then on top of that, none of the few specialists we have were here. We did what we could."

But he was much more optimistic about their leader Meintjes himself, saying "we saw that after the Tour, he was in good shape at the Olympics" - finishing seventh - "That's a very good sign."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.