CAPE TOWN – South Africa’s Rio Olympian Louis Meintjes continued to fly the flag for the rainbow nation in stage eight of the Tour de France on Saturday.
Meintjes ended 12th on the 187.5-kilometre ride between Dole and Station des Rousses.
The stage saw success for the host nation as Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane powered away for an impressive win.
After eight stages, Meintjes lies 13th on the general classification standings, 1min 24sec down on the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.
Daryl Impey, a two-time Olympian, is next best South African in 75th spot (28:30 back) followed by the Dimension Data duo of Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (129th43:52) and Jaco Venter (185th (1:03:40).
Africa’s only outfit in the TDF, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Serge Pauwels showed great shape on Saturday, putting in one attack after the other and was in the mix for the stage win up until the very end.
After two days for the sprinters, every rider in the peloton knew that the hilly stage was a good opportunity for a break to make it all the way.
Countless attacks occurred in the opening kilometres and it took over an hour of racing before a huge group of riders finally got away. No less than 50 riders ended up at the front, amongst them Pauwels who had been very attentive the whole day. The strong Belgian was eying a chance to take the yellow jersey as he was only two minutes behind Froome (Team Sky) in the general classification.
As the riders started on the categorised climbs, the break began to split up. Pauwels followed all the dangerous moves at the front and he was never out of contention.
On the last climb of the day, only a handful of riders were left at the front. Pauwels put up a big fight but on the final kilometres of the climb, he had to let go and see Calmejane solo away. Pauwels finished 50 seconds down as he was caught by the group of overall favourites on the final part of the stage but still moved up to 18th place overall.
Meintjies maintains his third spot in the Young Riders competition and Dimension Data still prop up the team standings, 1:03:35 behind Team Sky.
Sunday’s stage nine is 181.5km between Nanutua and Chambery… and will see the men separated from the boys!
The start is on a hill and there are there three big climbs, all averaging at least nine percent.
Last of the climbs is the Mont du Chat…but by this time chatting will be the last thing on the minds of the riders. Expect this stage to be a huge defining moment of the tour.
Meanwhile, young Ryan Gibbons in his first year as a professional rider, took third place in the Tour of Austria.
After two stages in the mountains, Saturday’s final stage looked to be one for the fast riders. However, with an undulating first half of the day, the sprinters had to put up a big fight if they wanted to stay in contention.
‘The finish was very hectic today," said Gibbons. "With 1500m to go, there was a crash at the front of the peloton, which took out Daniel [Teklehaimanot] and Jay [Thomson]. They both went down really hard.
"I tried to recover and I took the final corner in sixth position but that was too far back. I was only able to pass three riders so I had to settle for third place. Had the stage only been 100m longer, I think I would have won."
Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Gibbons proved to be on a good day when he made the cut to be part of a 65 riders big front group. Together with four of his teammates, amongst them Ben O’Connor, Gibbons eyed a good chance to sprint for the win.
Rich in numbers, the team took the lead on the last 10km, setting up Gibbons for the final sprint before the crash.
Ultimately, Clement Venturini (Cofidis) crossed the line first, while Gibbons had to settle for third place. O’Connor finished safely in the front group, securing his fifth place in the general classification. Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue Sport) won the race overall, while Teklehaimanot finished in seventh place.
After a stage win, two additional podium places and two riders in Top10 overall, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka finished off a strong week of racing by winning the team classification honours.