Johannesbrug - From the wham-bam whirlwind of Team Dimension Data in the first few weeks to the quiet calm of Louis Meintjes and the work of Daryl Impey, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Gary Blem, South Africa finished the 103rd Tour de France on Sunday having well and truly left a mark on La Grand Boucle.
Doug Ryder, the team principal of Dimension Data, whose team have had what he described as an “unbelievable” Tour, took the time to heap praise on Meintjes, who left Ryder’s team for Lampre-Merida at the end of last year. Meintjes finished seventh overall, just under seven minutes down on winner Chris Froome, having taken fourth on the tough 19th stage to Mont Blanc.
He was also second in the young riders’ category behind Britain’s Adam Yates. “That is so special to see,” said Ryder of Meintjes. “What a ride.”
Ryder desperately wanted to hold on to Meintjes, but the 24-year-old from Rustenburg sought a new challenge and felt he would grow as a rider with the Italian Lampre team that Robbie Hunter, his agent, once rode for.
They have given Meintjes his head, which he repaid them with 10th overall in the Criterium du Dauphine behind Froome.
He came into this race as one of two protected riders for Lampre and you suspect they will be giving him stronger back-up as their number one general classification rider in the future.
He had hoped for a stage win at the Tour, but rode a canny race, following the wheels of the big contenders, namely Froome and Sky, and did not look in the least bit out of place.
“It’s really hard because the GC and the other riders really predict how the race will go, rather than the profiles. It’s hard to look in advance and pick a stage. You need to base it on what happens in the day, what happened the day before and other factors,” said Meintjes.
Meintjes is a potential Grand Tour winner, and an outside shot for a medal at the upcoming Olympics. He believes he can win the Tour de France. Next year he will be regarded as a true contender.
Next year Froome et al will be keeping a closer eye on him.
Ryder was still agog at what his South African team had managed to pull off. Five stage wins, the first African-registered team to wear the yellow jersey and a hold on the green jersey for a spell.
A South African team with a South African sponsor riding for a South African charity, albeit a team whose wins were won by two Britons, Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings.
Janse van Rensburg was an important part of the lead-out train for Cavendish. There were three Africans in the squad this year as opposed to the five of 2015, but, as Ryder said, the Tour is the big stage for sponsors and the results and exposure will earn them the space and money to include more Africans in the other two Grand Tours.
Cavendish’s four stage wins were celebrated in South Africa with the same gusto they were in Great Britain. The win by Steve Cummings on the seventh stage was made more special by Daryl Impey of Orica-BikeExchange finishing second behind him.
Impey was one of the super domestiques for Orica-BikeExchange, who rode in support of Yates. Three years ago he became the first African to wear yellow at the Tour.
And then there was Gary Blem, the man with the pony tail seen every now and then jumping out of the Team Sky car. Blem, from Pretoria, is the chief mechanic for Sky, a highly-regarded wrench-man.
For the third time, he was there for Froome as the Kenyan-born, South African-raised Briton won the Tour. Africa made their mark on the Tour de France.