PARIS – Louis Meintjes was best South African on the day as the fifth stage of the Tour de France took place on Wednesday, minus two of the biggest names in world cycling.
Stage five saw riders tackling the 160.5km between Vittel and La Planchede Belles Filles, the first big climb of the day – without global attractions Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, the former out with a broken shoulder, the latter ousted by organisers for what they saw as unfair tactics in a crash in the final kilometre of stage four.
The stage winner was Italian champion Fabio Aru for Astana who crested the brutal climb after 3hr 44min 06sec of riding. Team Sky’s Chris Froome was third, 20sec adrift to don the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
Meintjies, an Olympian for Team South Africa in Rio de Janeiro last year, was 11th, 40 seconds down on the stage winner.
Riding for UAE Team Emirates, the Rustenberg cyclist said afterwards: "First mountain stage done. That was really fast from the start. The whole day was a nervous one in the peloton.
"The last 2 km were really fast… it was almost like a sprint finish with a really steep final. I was just a little bit empty when I arrived there. Thanks for the support. Looking forward to the rest of the race."
Meanwhile, Africa’s Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka did well to get into the heart of the action with Norwegian time trial champion Edvald Boasson Hagen part of a strong breakaway, which basically put him in the yellow jersey during the stage.
From the beginning of the day, multiple riders tried to break away. Ultimately, a strong group of eight riders managed to distance the peloton.
Boasson Hagen had been very attentive near the front and he was quick to join the moves when top breakaway riders like Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) attacked.
Only 16 seconds down in the general classification, it didn’t take long before Boasson Hagen was the virtual leader of the Tour. However, the front group never got a gap of much more than three minutes as BMC set a high pace in the peloton.
At the bottom of the final climb of the day, the breakaway had less than a minute on the pack. Boasson Hagen fought hard at the front but with 5km to go, the strong Norwegian got caught by a select group of favourites, including teammate Serge Pauwels.
The Belgian did very well to follow the GC riders and after an impressive effort, Pauwels crossed the line in 18th place, just over a minute after Aru who soloed to victory.
The next best South African on Wednesday was Meintjes’ fellow Olympian Daryl Impey in 72nd position for Orica-Scott.
Meintjes’ great effort sees him lying third in the Young Riders Classification, 41sec behind Orica-Scott’s Simon Yates.
In the General Classification he now lies 13th overall, 1:24 adrift of Froome, with Impey 60th (+8:24).
The other two South Africans, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Jaco Venter (Dimension Data) are 80th (11:54) and 183rd (29:21) respectively.
Team standings have seen Dimension Date drift out to last of the 22 teams, 22:31 behind Team Sky.
Thursday’s sixth stage is a solid, mainly straight and flat 216km run from Visoul to Troyes, pretty flat excepting two category four climbs, the second of which comes at 154km which should slow down any breakaway and make for another sprinter’s finish.