Louis Meintjes put in a magnificent ride on today’s final stage in the Pyrenees, claiming 5th place at the top of the Plateau de Beille. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) would be the rider to cross the line first, winning the 195km stage.
It was after the intermediate sprint at kilometer 20 that a big group of 22 riders jumped clear of the peloton. Louis was one of the first riders to force the pace as the young South African was motivated for today’s tough stage. The 22 riders gradually built their lead up to 12 minutes over the yellow jersey group, ensuring the break would decide the stage win. The day’s route included 4 major climbs and Louis was looking at ease on the uphill gradients, always riding in the front positions.
Two of the riders in the break, Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quickstep) and Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo) set off together just before the race hit the Port de Lers, prying open a 1’50” advantage on the chasers before the climb. Louis group brought the 2 leaders to within 10″ by the summit before the duo attacked on the downhill again. The weather had taken a turn for the worse on the back side of the climb and wet roads awaited the riders.
It was on these wet roads that our hearts jumped to our throats as Louis would crash heavily on his right side while in the chase group that now only consisted of 7 riders. Thankfully Louis was able to get up and started chasing back straight away. Our young South African had ripped his MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung kit to shreds with a bloody shoulder, ribs, elbow and hip exposed, but he was able to regain contact with the chase group.
The climb to the line would be over the course of the tough 15.8km Plateau de Beille. Rodriguez, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) would prove to be the strongest climbers in the break as they began attacking from the chase as soon the road tilted upwards. Louis would match them, toe for toe until Rodriguez put in the telling move with 10km to go. Vanmarcke and Kwiatkowski were caught and passed by the chasers with around 8km still to go. There was no stopping Rodriguez as Fuglsang had to settle for 2nd place with Bardet in 3rd.
In the end, after spending over 160km in the breakaway, crashing and then chasing back, Louis would cross the line in 5th place. Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) just pipped Louis for 4th on the line, an amazing ride by our young African champion.
Louis Meintjes – Rider
I really wanted to get into the breakaway today, it was the plan for the team. Edvald really helped me to get into the breakaway. We were pushing it all race and the pressure was on, on the descents and unfortunately I took a bit too much of a risk and came down but got back to the group pretty quickly. On the final climb I just didn’t have the legs to go with the front guys.
Jens Zemke – Sport Director
It was a fantastic performance by our youngster, Louis, to finish 5th on such a super tough stage of the Tour de France. 195km with 4 really hard climbs. It was the plan to have either Louis or Merhawi in the break today and Louis made it in the big group that came together after the first sprint. There were 22 riders but this group became smaller and smaller after each climb. On the 2nd last climb the rain started and Louis crashed on the descent but he was up quickly. He looked a bit damaged with a cut up jersey and some bleeding on his sides with some serious wounds but he was fighting on the last climb. The big names made it, Rodriguez, Fuglsang and Bardet with Louis sprinting it out for 4th with Izagirre.
This is a huge result for him and the team are very happy with his performance. So once again we were in the move and again we were fighting for a top 5. We were even going for the win but if you see the names ahead of him we must also accept that there were 3 riders stronger than him.