There were few surprises in the final reckoning of the Elite World Road Race Championship in Florence.
Don’t say ‘Costa’ – he’s a quality rider; a season which included two stages and the GC in the Tour de Suisse plus two Tour de France stages meant he was a man to be reckoned with.
I was just that the pundits – me included – overlooked him.
But the U23 race threw up a number of surprises; all of the big name Belgian, British, French and Italian favourites failed and Slovenian Matej Mohoric moved seamlessly up from junior to U23 Champion of the World.
And in second place was a young man who chased the Slovenian all the way to the line and once again reminded us that African cycling has to be taken seriously.
Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka and Republic of South Africa) kept the African Pro Continental squad’s dream of a season rolling with the silver medal.
The team started with Gerald Ciolek’s magnificent win in Milano-Sanremo and throughout the season have always been ‘in the mix,’
Junior champion of the RSA in the individual time trial and road race in 2010, the following season Meintjes took a stage in the highly respected Triptyque Ardennaise stage race in Belgium.
That ride got him a start with the Lotto U23 team for 2012 and as well as the RSA U23 TT title there were numerous strong results in Belgium and France.
This season he signed with MTN-Qhubeka, retained his RSA TT title and added the U23 road race championship for good measure.
He also performed well in UCI stage races with fourth spot in the Tour of Taiwan and ninth place in the Tour of Korea.
We spoke to Louis soon after his excellent ride in Tuscany.
Congratulations on a great ride, Louis – how many riders did RSA have in the race and what was the game plan?
“We had three, Chris Jennings (ex-Rapha-Condor and Davie Bell winner), my MTN-Qhubeka team mate Johann Van Zyl, and me.
“The plan was for me to wait for the finale with my team mates controlling the breaks – it worked out perfectly.”
It looked like you might get up to Mohoric on the descent and run in to the line.
“I actually caught him at the top of the big climb but couldn’t hold him on the descent – I don’t usually struggle on the descents but he’s very, very good at going downhill, fast!”
What was your take on the course?
“I thought it was a good course for the Worlds – maybe there could have been a little bit more flat between the climbs . . .”
“No, pretty happy – I didn’t make any major mistakes during the race.”
Did you train to peak for it?
“It was one of my goals from the start of the season and once I saw the parcours I trained accordingly.
“In training I found a climb of about the same length as the big climb in Florence, rested a little then put in a super hard effort to simulate the second climb which was a real ramp – I was on 39 x 26 for it.”
How have the RSA Media been?
“It’s been crazy; Chris Froome’s win in the Tour de France sparked a lot of interest in African cycling.”
What’s the South African cycling scene like?
“The local scene’s not the best – there’s not too much money about and it’s hard for young guys to view cycling as a career.
“The races all include a mass participation element which makes it a bit different to a European race.”
Did the stage win in the Triptyque Ardennaise get you the ride with Lotto?
“That stage win was a surprise but it was one of those days when everything just lined up for me – I was on a small Belgian team but did have good form.
“I was in the break with a Lotto guy that day do they got a good look at me on the day.
“The ride with Lotto was great, I rode a good programme which helped my development a lot but was only on a three month tourist visa so had to go home after that expired.”
Then you signed with MTN-Qhubeka.
“The team could see that I was growing as a rider and with winning the RSA U23 road race and time trial titles it confirmed that I was the best for my age in the country.”
Louise talks about his pride at being a rider on the MTN-Qhubeka team.
It must be inspiring to have Gerald Ciolek as a team mate?
“Apart from his abilities as a rider, he’s a really nice guy – to be riding alongside him is like a dream.
“Just last year he was one of the guys I used to look at in the glossy magazines and on the TV.
“Sergio Pardilla is a really good guy too; he gives me a lot of advice during and after races – what to do and not to do.”
Worlds apart, what was the hi-lite of the season for you?
“Finishing Lombardia; it’s not just that the parcours is so tough and the quality of the field so high, the weather was terrible on top of that.”
Louise chats about being the youngest rider in the Tour of Lombardy – his World Tour debut.
Was that the end of the season for you?
“No, I have the Tour of Rwanda in mid November and maybe the African championships at the start of December but if I do ride it then I’ll take a week or two off before.”
“There’ll be no major changes to my winter preparation – I’ll continue to work with the team coaches.
“I’m really looking forward to next season.
‘The Worlds are in Spain and as soon as the course is announced I’ll begin to think about the U23 Worlds – I’m still eligible for 2014…”