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Meintjes highest-placed SA rider on tough first day

After the dummy runs of virtual cycling during lockdown, the sport returned to post-Covid-19 reality with the start of the Vuelta a Burgos, which features South Africa’s only UCI World Cycling Team, NTT Pro Cycling.

The team, which won the virtual Tour de France recently in lockdown, struggled when it came to the real thing in Spain. Italian rider Giacomo Nizzolo was the best of the South African-registered team’s seven-men squad on the 157km opening stage.

Nizzolo, who won the first stage of the race last year, finished 26th.

Former national champion Louis Meintjes was the first South African rider to finish, completing the opening stage in 40th place and he was 12 seconds behind Nizzolo heading into Tuesday’s stage two.

There was plenty of drama in the sport’s return. Gijs Leemreize, a 20-year-old racing in his first pro race, lost a fingertip in his right hand in a crash about 50km to go. Ineos rider Sebastian Henao was also out of the race with a dislocated shoulder, Ineos officials confirmed.

Bora-Hansgrohe confirmed that they’re hitting the ground running after their domination of last week’s Sibiu Tour. After CCC Team had dominated the run-in to the final climb and Trek-Segafredo had started in pole position, Felix Großschartner wasted no time in going on the attack and stole a march on the rest.

The opening day of the five-stage race was all about the double ascent of the steep, technical climb to the Mirador viewpoint, tackled first with 15km to go and then again for the finish. However, despite a sizeable peloton hitting it for the second time, the race had already exploded to life long before.

Shortly after a high-speed crash that led to the abandons of Henao Leemreize, the riders turned into a crosswind on an exposed section of road and the peloton split in three. It was only just coming back together, with 37km to go, when Remco Evenepoel launched his solo move, carving out 45sec before being steadily pulled back under pressure from Movistar, and caught with 23km to go.

After an opportunistic attack from South Africa’s Willie Smit (Burgos-BH), Ineos dominated the first ascent of the Alto del Castillol. However, the British team then faded and didn’t place a rider in the top 10.

South Africans after stage one:
40 Louis Meintjes (NTT Pro Cycling) 0:28sec behind
95 Willie Smit (Burgos-BH) 3min 33sec
111 Nicholas Dlamini (NTT Pro Cycling) 8min 21sec