MTN-Qhubeka signed Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar and Matt Goss, making it easy to overlook several home-grown gems like South African Louis Meintjes. The 22-year-old national champion placed fifth in the Giro del Trentino behind Cadel Evans and debuted in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, in 2014.
His international season will begin in the Tour of Oman in February with cyclists like Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen and Joaquím Rodríguez, and in an ideal scenario, it will peak with him supporting the South African team in its Tour de France debut.
“I don’t want to be named in the line up just because I am African,” Meintjes told Cycling Weekly.
“I want to prove that I am one of the best nine riders in the team. I want to fight for my place and prove that I deserve to be there and hopefully I am good enough to make the selection.”
Doug Ryder and his new general manager, Brian Smith strengthened their second division team over the autumn and winter months with several headline signings from WorldTour teams. They already launched it in South Africa, but they will welcome their 22 cyclists, wearing the team’s new white and black stripped kit, at a Mallorca training camp next week.
Meintjes – first named pronounced ‘Lou-ee’ – stands out. He wears the national champion jersey that he won last February ahead of established professional Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge).
The team’s new cyclists, including Briton Steve Cummings from team BMC, might also recognise Meintjes from the Florence World Championships. He collected a silver medal in the Under 23 race after he made a group of favourites with two laps remaining and on the last lap, put in a solo attack to catch the lone leader. Slovenian Matej Mohoric remained solo and won with Meintjes just three seconds back. The Yates twins, Adam and Simon placed in the group behind at 13 seconds.
Based on his 2014 season, Meintjes has no reason to be shy around his more experienced team-mates. He followed that Worlds ride with the national championship title, fifth overall and the white jersey in the Giro del Trentino and debuts the Vuelta, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milan-San Remo.
“It was a successful year. I had a lot of good opportunities and progressed so I am happy with how the year went,” Meintjes added.
“The biggest thing is the confidence I gained and seeing that it’s possible to get a result. You always think other guys have special talent and maybe you’re not physically capable but I got that feeling that it’s possible to fight to be the best in the world.”
His next step could be his first win on European soil or becoming one of MTN’s nine if the team starts the Tour de France on July 4.
Tour de France organiser ASO should announce its four to five wildcard teams in January. They will race alongside the 17 first division, WorldTour teams with guaranteed invitations.
“Obviously it’s a whole bigger team so there’s more expectation and more pressure. I don’t think [it’s going to be harder to win with the new riders]. It goes both ways. Maybe I will have fewer days where I can race for myself but when I do, I will have a stronger team to support me because of the new guys that have come in. Maybe it will make winning a race a little easier.”
Besides Boasson Hagen, Goss, Farrar and Theo Bos – all one-day/sprinter types – MTN also signed former Sky and Omega Pharma-Quick Step cyclist Serge Pauwels. The Belgian will lead the climbing team, but also give valuable advice to the team’s budding riders like ‘Lou-ee’ Meintjes.