South Africa’s Johann van Zyl of Dimension Data is ready to embrace his supporting role for compatriot Louis Meintjes at the Vuelta a Espana, which starts with an 8km individual time-trial in Malaga tomorrow.
Meintjes will lead the eight-man team, which also includes SA’s Ryan Gibbons, Spain’s Igor Anton, Eritrea’s Merhawi Kudus, Britain’s Steve Cummins, America’s Ben King and debutant Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, also of Eritrea.
“I love this role and I put a lot of effort into it,” Van Zyl told In the Bunch today. “It has taken some years, but I think I have finally found my niche.
“I’m able to read race situations much better. I’m able to study the race route more carefully to be sure I can have the team in the right spot at the right time – this, while using as little energy as possible.
“Louis sticking to me automatically brings the whole team to us, so essentially I will be looking after everyone.”
Van Zyl added that in race situations he remained “selfless” and that the outcome of the team was more important than personal goals.
“I never think about myself. My goal is to float with Louis and the team while ensuring they are able to get a good result at the end. I find great satisfaction in that.
“That makes it difficult to have goals as a support rider, but if an opportunity presents itself later in the race and I get to have some freedom then obviously it will be great to be in a break that stays away.”
Dimension Data has had a forgettable year so far, having racked up only five wins in total, just one more than Quick-Step Floors managed in the Tour alone.
Van Zyl, however, was optimistic that the Vuelta could be the team’s silver lining.
“We have a great team here,” he said. “I honestly believe that this can be the turning point.
“It has been a tough year so far and we are all under pressure, but everyone is in great shape and knows what they have to do [to get results].
“We had this similar team at the Burgos and there we showed a lot of commitment as a team and we made quite an impact in the race.”
Meintjes himself has had a disappointing year following his successes over the past two seasons, but Van Zyl said he had put that rough spell behind him.
“Louis is looking on point; I’ve spent quite a bit of time with him over these last couple of weeks and I believe he is ready.
“The whole team believes in him and we are ready to fully support him.”
This will be the Cape Town local’s fourth Grand Tour appearance after having featured in the 2015 Vuelta and the 2016 and 2017 Giro d’Italia races previously.
Following the Spring Classics, which ended in April, Van Zyl said his focus this year was to be selected especially for the Spanish Grand Tour and that “every training ride was built towards being here”.
He said the various training rides he took on had prepared him for the 21-stage race.
“I spent some time up in Andorra climbing every day, which helped boost my [fitness] level a lot,” he said.
“I just needed some time off racing so that I was able to prepare for the specifics. I remember my first Vuelta was very hard. I tried every day to make it into the break and I didn’t once make it.
“But now my sense of depth is better and I know how to handle the load. I honestly can’t wait to get going.”
With Meintjes taking on the GC ambitions for the team, Gibbons will be tasked with getting results in the sprint stages. Van Zyl said the rest of the team would also take opportunities in breakaways if possible.
“Now we just need to pin the numbers on and get the job done,” he said.