Sport

IN THE SADDLE | Q&A with Louis Meintjes

South Africa’s Louis Meintjes is
currently at his base in Andorra where he is confirmed to staying indoors as a result of the
Covid-19 pandemic.

In our latest Q&A we ask the NTT Pro Cycling team member about the Olympic Games, the Tour de France, his start to 2020 and his new
found love for baking.

Louis, you’re in Andorra,
how have you been dealing with the lockdown?

Training and life has been spent
mostly inside as they don’t want us to do anything outside here except to leave
and go shopping for food, everything happens indoors. It’s not been too bad
really; a lot of hours on Zwift, lots of time to reorganise the house, sort out
things and clean all of those things that you never really find the time for.
It’s not been really bad so far, I’ve been keeping in contact with family and
friends, it’s not ideal but I’m still coping pretty well.

You’ve revealed, certainly
publicly at least, a new side to yourself by showing off your baking skills.
Tell us more!

It was more just something to
keep me busy and I won’t at all say that I’m skilled. It’s pretty fun. There’s
no real specific skill or recipe that I’m following, I just look at all the
YouTube videos, read a bunch of recipes and then I go to the kitchen, see what
I have, and make something up. Luckily most of the time it turns out okay but
sometimes I also need a bit of luck to make it work.

Tell us about your start to
the year: firstly what was your off-season like, and then your racing start in
Malaysia?

The start of the year wasn’t that
great in the end, although it started really well in December when we had our
first camp. Training was very good and I was feeling pretty optimistic but just
after the New Year I got a bit ill and it took quite a bit of time to get back
to proper training after that. So the start of the season was a bit slow and I wasn’t
in the form that I wanted to be in Langkawi and Haut Var straight afterwards.
In general though the feeling was good, that I was always improving. But
unfortunately in the first two races I wasn’t 100% sharp yet so the start of
the season could have been better but in general I thought “okay this should
lead into a good season, and the races to come”.

After two difficult years
what was your mindset going into 2020?

The last two years haven’t been
great. Two things I learnt during those two years is not to under appreciate
when things go well, just to keep on working and when all things align then
appreciate it because it’s not always that simple. It just kind of stayed the
same: to keep on working, try your best, control what you can control and hopefully
it works out.

You missed the Tour last
year through injury – and it may still go ahead in 2020 – how much do you love
the race?

I’ve really missed the Tour in
the last few years. It’s the biggest thing in cycling and once you’ve been
there and close to the front, in relation to everything else that you do, it’s
not that it isn’t worth it or something, it’s just that it’s sort of a stepping
stone to get to the top at the Tour. I really miss it and hopefully this year,
as it it’s still uncertain if it will go ahead, it would be great to be there.
I’m not sure if it will be the same with everything going on at the moment, and
there are more important things to be worried about, but I would really love
one day to be back at the Tour and really feeling good.

How do you reflect on your
consecutive top-10 finishes now?

It already feels like a really
long time ago since those two top-10s. It still feels a bit unreal when I see
highlights on TV, then you realise how much work, on top of work and on top of
(more) work, it is to get to that point where everything goes right, you’re
absolutely flying and one of the top riders in the world. You feel proud and
happy but you also realise that it’s (a result of ) a lot of things going
right, lots of support and things working out for months and months on end to
get to that. It’s a good memory as to what you are chasing, I know that if I
can do everything right the reward that I can get. It’s always there in my mind
and it motivates me to get back there.

How much has the style of
racing changed particularly among the GC riders?

I think it has changed in the
last few years. I think the top guys are all very close on their level of
performance so for them to make a difference they can’t really climb 10 seconds
faster than the other guy or time trial so much faster than another other guy
so they’re looking for any single opportunity to make a difference. If that
means going faster and splitting the bunch on the downhills or making a move
when nobody else expects it. Just stuff like that is actually forcing it to be
a little bit more dangerous, hoping another guy will make a mistake is
unfortunately also one of the things. It’s become even more aggressive
tactically, taking risks over perhaps what your physical performance is actually
going to be.

Have you spent much time
with Bjarne Riis and what input is he having both on you and the team?

I’ve spent a lot of time with
Bjarne (with)in the group, so when we were at the team training camp he was
always around speaking. But personally I haven’t really sat down and had a
(face-to-face) personal conversation with him. He’s pretty good in getting
everyone together, everyone motivated, inspiring everyone, he’s really on top
of the small details and pays attention to everything. And he understands bike
racing which is really good if he’s your boss, so he will be good for the team.

In 2016 you were 8th at the
Tour, with a best finish of 4th on a stage and then you were 7th in the Olympic
Road Race. Were the Olympics on your plan for this year?

The Olympics were also amazing to
be a part of but I also realised in Rio that might have been my only chance as
it was a route really suited to me, everything was perfect and I was flying. To
replicate that I knew would be super hard but then again the course this year
would have been pretty hard. It was also a bit frustrating that I didn’t
have any results to prove that I should go and I didn’t have any feedback from
the national federation or anything; so you don’t really know if it’s worth
preparing if you’re not going to be selected. I would have loved to go and
had that certainty beforehand but that put it into the background so I rather
decided to focus on things that I know if I’m performing then the team will
send me to the Tour, because that for sure I know is achievable. The
Olympics would have been pretty much all down to luck to arrive at the start
line.

What did you make of the
decision to postpone them to 2021?

Personally it might be a good
thing for me, to give me time to actually get a result before and show that I
should go. I think it’s the best thing to do. It is a pity for all the athletes
that really prepared and did everything but you don’t want it to come down to
people having to risk to go to qualifiers, to make sure they arrive at the
Games, to risk their health to do their sport. It’s clear that everyone has had
some time to prepare and do their qualifying events, go to the race without
fearing anything and just focus on the sport. It’s unfortunate but I think it
would have been a mistake to try and force it to happen. If I was the Olympic
champion, I would rather want to be the champion when all the best people are
there and in the best shape, and have no excuses. If it was held this year then
perhaps you can’t say that because some people are staying away because of the
virus.

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