‘I Want to Win the White Jersey.’ – Meintjes
Louis Meintjes tells us what it’s like to climb and be part of the greatest grand tour of all – the Tour De France. – By André Valentine
What many cyclists dread, Louis Meintjes craves. That’s hills – the steeper, the better. “When I’m climbing in the front group and there are only 10 guys left, that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” says Meintjes, who is riding for UAE Team Emirates. It’s no surprise then that he’s been tasked with goals fit for a dyed-in-the-wool climber: go for the GC, and take the lead in the mountains.
It’s easy for a young man to set his sights too high, but Meintjes is a level-headed lad. “My goal is to achieve the best GC result I can. Hopefully, that will be enough to earn the White Jersey,” he says.
Meintjes has been to only two Tours de France, but has already learned that to achieve your goals, you need to race as flawlessly as possible. In the high-stakes environment of the Tour, he says, there is no room for error.
He’s also learned that gut health is important. Meintjes experienced this first-hand on his toughest day at the 2015 Tour, finishing an admirable fifth on Stage 12 despite a bad stomach bug. The following day, he had to abandon the race.
He was more fortunate in 2016 – and also more prominent, making his mark on Le Tour with a strong top-10 finish (8th overall), and second in the race for the White Jersey.
Surviving three weeks at the TdF is mentally and physically draining, and riders need various mind tricks to ease the mental strain. “I don’t treat it as 21 days,” says Meintjes. “It’s one day at a time.”
But 21 days is still 21 days; and to get through it, a rider needs a good recovery strategy. Meintjes believes in finding a good recovery rhythm, between eating, recovery aids such as massage, and sleeping.
“Hopefully, with a bit more experience and hard work, I can get to their level. I don’t think I’m there yet.”
His post-stage routine is a good example of this, and highlights his belief that eating right is the most important aspect of recovery. The first thing he gets is an energy drink; then he has a shower on the bus. After the shower, he has some rice.
The team management does its bit to keep things simple. One way is to provide casual clothes for the duration of the Tour, allowing riders to pack lightly; which makes it easy to pack when the team moves to the next location. “You actually go to the race with a half-empty suitcase, and come home with a full one,” says Meintjes.
Despite these touches, the tour still moves at a million miles an hour, and there is very little downtime. “Often, the only luxury you have is your phone and laptop.”
Meintjes loves that he doesn’t have to be weight-conscious – eating to fill a kilojoule deficit means he can eat more than usual, but not gain weight. He also loves exploring French cuisine, especially when there is a speciality dish served by the hotel. “It’s nice when the hotel prepares something different. Often they just make the same thing over and over, like plain chicken and pasta.”
Even though Meintjes has held his own with the best of the best at the grandest tour of all, like a fanboy he’s still in awe of his fellow riders. And wants to emulate them: “Hopefully, with a bit more experience and hard work, I can get to their level. I don’t think I’m there yet.”
For more stories and interviews about Saffers at the Tour, buy the Tour De France-themed July/August issue of Bicycling today!