South Africa’s Louis Meintjes is currently at his base in Andorra where he is staying indoors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In our latest Q&A we ask him about the Olympic Games, the Tour de France, his start to 2020 and his new found love for baking.
Louis, you’re in Andorra, how have you been dealing with the lockdown?
Training and life has been spent mostly inside as they don’t want us to do anything outside here except to leave and go shopping for food, everything happens indoors. It’s not been too bad really; a lot of hours on Zwift, lots of time to reorganise the house, sort out things and clean all of those things that you never really find the time for. It’s not been really bad so far, I’ve been keeping in contact with family and friends, it’s not ideal but I’m still coping pretty well.
You’ve revealed, certainly publicly at least, a new side to yourself by showing off your baking skills. Tell us more!
It was more just something to keep me busy and I won’t at all say that I’m skilled. It’s pretty fun. There’s no real specific skill or recipe that I’m following, I just look at all the Youtube videos, read a bunch of recipes and then I go to the kitchen, see what I have, and make something up. Luckily most of the time it turns out okay but sometimes I also need a bit of luck to make it work.
Tell us about your start to the year: firstly what was your off-season like, and then your racing start in Malaysia?
The start of the year wasn’t that great in the end, although it started really well in December when we had our first camp. Training was very good and I was feeling pretty optimistic but just after the New Year I got a bit ill and it took quite a bit of time to get back to proper training after that. So the start of the season was a bit slow and I wasn’t in the form that I wanted to be in Langkawi and Haut Var straight afterwards. In general though the feeling was good, that I was always improving. But unfortunately in the first two races I wasn’t 100% sharp yet so the start of the season could have been better but in general I thought “okay this should lead into a good season, and the races to come”.
After two difficult years what was your mindset going into 2020?
The last two years haven’t been great. Two things I learnt during those two years is not to under appreciate when things go well, just to keep on working and when all things align then appreciate it because it’s not always that simple. It just kind of stayed the same: to keep on working, try your best, control what you can control and hopefully it works out.
You missed the Tour last year through injury – and it may still go ahead in 2020 – how much do you love the race?
I’ve really missed the Tour in the last few years. It’s the biggest thing in cycling and once you’ve been there and close to the front, in relation to everything else that you do, it’s not that it isn’t worth it or something, it’s just that it’s sort of a stepping stone to get to the top at the Tour. I really miss it and hopefully this year, as it it’s still uncertain if it will go ahead, it would be great to be there. I’m not sure if it will be the same with everything going on at the moment, and there are more important things to be worried about, but I would really love one day to be back at the Tour and really feeling good.
How do you reflect on your consecutive top-10 finishes now?
It already feels like a really long time ago since those two top-10s. It still feels a bit unreal when I see highlights on TV, then you realise how much work, on top of work and on top of (more) work, it is to get to that point where everything goes right, you’re absolutely flying and one of the top riders in the world. You feel proud and happy but you also realise that it’s (a result of ) a lot of things going right, lots of support and things working out for months and months on end to get to that. It’s a good memory as to what you are chasing, I know that if I can do everything right the reward that I can get. It’s always there in my mind and it motivates me to get back there.
How much has the style of racing changed particularly among the GC riders?
I think it has changed in the last few years. I think the top guys are all very close on their level of performance so for them to make a difference they can’t really climb 10 seconds faster than the other guy or time trial so much faster than another other guy so they’re looking for any single opportunity to make a difference. If that means going faster and splitting the bunch on the downhills or making a move when nobody else expects it. Just stuff like that is actually forcing it to be a little bit more dangerous, hoping another guy will make a mistake is unfortunately also one of the things. It’s become even more aggressive tactically, taking risks over perhaps what your physical performance is actually going to be.
Have you spent much time with Bjarne Riis and what input is he having both on you and the team?
I’ve spent a lot of time with Bjarne (with)in the group, so when we were at the team training camp he was always around speaking. But personally I haven’t really sat down and had a (face-to-face) personal conversation with him. He’s pretty good in getting everyone together, everyone motivated, inspiring everyone; he’s really on top of the small details and pays attention to everything. And he understands bike racing which is really good if he’s your boss, so he will be good for the team.
In 2016 you were 8th at the Tour, with a best finish of 4th on a stage and then you were 7th in the Olympic Road Race. Were the Olympics on your plan for this year?
The Olympics were also amazing to be a part of but I also realised in Rio that might have been my only chance as it was a route really suited to me, everything was perfect and I was flying. To replicate that I knew would be super hard but then again the course this year would have been pretty hard. It was also a bit frustrating that I didn’t have any results to prove that I should go and I didn’t have any feedback from the national federation or anything; so you don’t really know if it’s worth preparing if you’re not going to be selected. I would have loved to go and had that certainty beforehand but that put it into the background so I rather decided to focus on things that I know if I’m performing then the team will send me to the Tour, because that for sure I know is achievable. The Olympics would have been pretty much all down to luck to arrive at the start line.
What did you make of the decision to postpone them to 2021?
Personally it might be a good thing for me, to give me time to actually get a result before and show that I should go. I think it’s the best thing to do. It is a pity for all the athletes that really prepared and did everything but you don’t want it to come down to people having to risk to go to qualifiers, to make sure they arrive at the Games, to risk their health to do their sport. It’s clear that everyone has had some time to prepare and do their qualifying events, go to the race without fearing anything and just focus on the sport. It’s unfortunate but I think it would have been a mistake to try and force it to happen. If I was the Olympic champion, I would rather want to be the champion when all the best people are there and in the best shape, and have no excuses. If it was held this year then perhaps you can’t say that because some people are staying away because of the virus.
Finally, are you going to be sharing any of the recipes?!
It’s made with love! (laughs) Just joking. Like I was saying I don’t really stick well to recipes I always start reading them and then do my own thing. I don’t really have a specific recipe to share; it’s a lot of fun I see what works, what doesn’t work and just enjoy the process.