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Tour de France

Tour de France: Second on Alpe d’Huez marks an important and emotional return to form for Louis Meintjes

South African back to form after several difficult seasons.

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He was speechless and emotional at the finish but, for Louis Meintjes, that’s completely understandable.

The South African has been waiting a long time to be back in the spotlight at the Tour de France. Once heralded as the great hope for his country, a rider touted as a future Tour challenger, he has had several years in the wilderness

Following placings of eighth overall in the race in 2016 and 2017, Meintjes moved to Team Dimension Data expecting to be one of its standout riders.

That didn’t work out. He had the three quietest years of his pro career, and moved across to Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux at the start of 2021 in real need of a reset.

Since then the now-30 year old has regained a little of his former momentum and snagged his first win in seven years when he took the Giro dell’Appennino in June.

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Meintjes followed that up with a fine sixth overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné and while his Tour de France was relatively quiet until the end of stage 11, he turned things around nicely on stage 12.

“It’s been a few difficult years, so to finally be up there again is nice,” he said, voice breaking with emotion, shortly after finishing second atop Alpe d’Huez.

The climbing specialist was part of the day’s key break, moving clear early on and then remaining prominent as the list of contenders was whittled down.

He looked good racing onto the lower ramps of Alpe d’Huez and was the closest to Tom Pidcock when the Ineos Grenadiers rider got the gap. Meintjes held him at several seconds for a long while, but things eventually started to open up.

Asked how things played out that way, he seemed a little uncertain.

“I don’t know,” he said, then repeating the phrase two more times. “Actually I thought it was ideal that he was in front, because then we would keep going full gas. If we got together we would slow down and play poker, and then maybe there is an acceleration, which I think he is better at.

“For some time I was actually just trying to stay behind him to make sure he was also committing 100 percent. But finally the elastic snapped and he was just stronger today. That’s how it goes, you are not always the best.”

Meintjes may not have been quite good enough to win atop Alpe d’Huez, but in finishing second at 48 seconds, he showed that he is on the way back to his best form.

He got a big morale boost, and also moved up three places to 13th overall in the general classification. Could the overall standings become a focus in the coming days?

“I think so,” he said. “I have to see what happens today, the stage is still going on. But I think first enjoy second place as much as you can, and then get ready for what is to come.”

Top ten in Paris or not, he’s already made big progress these past few weeks.