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Meintjies masters the mountains in Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta Spagna 2014

Last year’s silver medallist in the Under-23 road race at World Championships in Italy, Louis Meintjies continues to make a name for himself at senior level.
Monday’s 16th stage of the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) is certainly the defining stage in terms of the General Classification and Meintjies excelled to end 16th on the day.
The severity of the course made sure it was a very select group of favourites that arrived at the base of the final 16-kilometre climb to Lagos de Somiedo. Among the big names in the GC group, Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung had two representatives in the form of 22-year-old Louis Meintjes and Spaniard Sergio Pardilla.
It was not all plain sailing to get to this point though and it was a great team effort that ensured the two climbers could be in contention for the finale.
A 13-rider break formed at the summit of the first Cat 1 climb but with the race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) clearly having his sights set on a stage victory, the pace remained high throughout the race. The SA outfit’s men for the flat stages, Gerald Ciolek, Kristian Sbaragli, Jaco Venter and Jay Thomson did some sterling work over the first few climbs, ensuring their climbers did the least amount of work possible.
With each passing climb the peloton became smaller and smaller as the break was slowly reeled back in. On the stages penultimate climb, all but three of the original break had been caught. It was also on these slopes where Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus’ jobs for the day had also been completed as they left Pardila and Meintjes with the final 27 riders.
At the summit of the final climb, it was Contador who would race to victory with Chris Froome (Team Sky) in second and Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) third. Most impressive though was that Meintjes managed to hang in there with the big names to end 16th, just 2min 56sec down on Contador after more than 4500m of climbing during the stage. Pardilla crossed the line 6:37 down yet still managed to hang on to his 19th position overall on the GC.
The team now have the second rest day of the Vuelta a Espana and to still have all nine riders in the race is a magnificent achievement in it’s own right, more so if one takes into consideration that there are six grand tour debutantes riding for MTN-Qhubeka.
Meintjies’ take on the day’s work: ‘Today’s stage was really hard. The guys went full gas up the first cat 1 in the opening 20km and I was already at my limit there. Once the break went over the climb it settled down a bit but I punctured on the descent. I had to get a wheel from neutral service as the race was all spread out so far behind.
‘I got back to the bunch with a small group of riders and then my legs started to feel pretty good. I am very pleased with my result, obviously as a rider you always think how you could have maybe finished higher up but it was a good day.’

Picture: Ilario Biondi/BettiniPhoto©2014


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