By Mark Etheridge
Seven South African cyclists are in Spanish action on Friday at the UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada.
Two events are under the spotlight, the junior women’s road race and the Men’s Under-23 road race.
Three SA girls are off first as they tackle the 72.8-kilometre event, raced over four laps of 18.2km.
Wearing the green and gold will be Michelle Benson, Cathy Colyn and Monique Gerber. The first and last mentioned raced the individual time trial earlier in the week while Colyn is only tackling the road race.
Benson, African Youth Games individual time trial champion, will be hoping her body has recovered from the tumble she took three kilometres out from the finish on Monday.
A field of 93 girls and representing 35 countries will line up for the 9am SA start. Of those Italy have the most representation with five riders in their team while 11 other countries have four in the saddle.
South Africa are one of seven countries with three riders.
After the women’s race the action really hots up with the men’s Under-23 field going off at 1pm. A total of 163 riders from 42 countries are in the mix, four of them from South Africa.
And in Louis Meintjies, South Africa has a very real medal chance. Last year in Italy, the Rustenberg rider raced to a silver medal in the same event and he’ll be a man with a target on his back this time out.
To this end he has three team-mates backing him up in the shape of Jayde Julius, Kevin Patte and Willem Smit.
Meintjies, eighth in the individual time trial earlier in the week, went into world championships on the back of a gruelling Vuelta Espana tour but was pleasantly surprised at how his legs felt after the firm trial.
One man who is quietly confident that his charge will step up to the plate on Friday is MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung team principle Douglas Ryder. He told Road to Rio 2016: ‘Louis was incredible in the TT, to finish eighth. He was also the only rider to ride the Vuelta which is hugely tough and shows his pedigree.
‘The road race will be tough for him as he is a favourite for a medal so he will be watched. The race will come down to power of course on the day but also bunch positioning on a technical course and that will make the difference.
‘Louis is really focused on doing well so let us hope the day goes well for him and we could be seeing a world champion.’
There’s no doubt Meintjies is a man with a mission. He posted on his Facebook page on Thursday night: ‘It’s already been a good year for me but I can’t think of a better way to finish the season that with a result tomorrow.’
And so say all of us!