The 16th stage of the Vuelta a Espana would be the defining stage in terms of the General Classification.
The severity of the course made sure it was a very select group of favourites that arrived at the base of the final 16km climb Lagos de Somiedo. Among the big names in the GC group, Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung had 2 representatives in the form of 22 year old Louis Meintjes and our Spaniard Sergio Pardilla.
It was not all plain sailing to get to this point though and it was a great team effort that ensured our 2 climbers could be in contention for the finale. A 13 rider break formed at the summit of the first cat 1 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. Our men for the flat stages, Gerald Ciolek, Kristian Sbaragli, Jaco Venter and Jay Thomson did some sterling work over the first few climbs, ensuring our 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 3 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, it was Contador who would race to victory with Chris Froome (Team Sky) in 2nd and Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) 3rd. Most impressive though was that Meintjes managed to hang in there with the big names to end up 16th on the stage, just 2’56” 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 have now reached the 2nd rest day of the Vuelta a Espana and to still have all 9 riders in the race is a magnificent achievement in it’s own right, more so if you take in to consideration that there are 6 grand tour debutants riding for MTN-Qhubeka.
Rider – Louis Meintjes
Today’s stage was really hard. The guys went full gas up the first cat 1 in the opening 20km’s 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.