Meintjes to lead Africa's Team at Giro

South Africa's Louis Meintjes rejoined Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka this season from UAE Team Emirates. AP Photo/Peter Dejong

South Africa's Louis Meintjes will be Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's lead rider when the 101st Giro d'Italia gets underway on Friday, 4 May.

Meintjes, who returned to Africa's Team this year from UAE Team Emirates, will contest for the general classification against the likes of defending Giro champion Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome and local favourite Fabio Aru. It will be his eighth grand tour overall, but first time doing the 'Corsa Rosa'.

"It's really exciting to be taking on a new challenge, having never raced the Giro d'Italia before," said the 26-year-old in a team press release confirming their eight-man roster. An intriguing part of this year's tour is that it will make a historic start in Jerusalem with a 9.7km individual time trial, followed by two additional stages in Israel and then onto Italy itself for 18 stages.

"It is a great route, with some really tough stages. Obviously, as it's the first time we have worked towards the Giro, the build up to the race has also been new for us. I know we have worked hard and prepared well though and the target remains a strong GC result," added Meintjes.

Meintjes, who has had an inconsistent start to the year, will be backed up a strong list of climbers: "We have a great team for the Giro, and the core of our team has been together for most of the season already."

Ben O'Connor, who recently won a stage of the Tour of Alps before going on to finish the race 7th overall, will be Meintjes' 'deputy'. The 22-year-old Australian will also be making his debut in a grand tour, but based on his recent results should be a strong support for Meintjes.

As with 2017, Ryan Gibbons will be the team's hope in sprint stages. The young South African was somewhat of a revelation last year, with six top-10 placings in what was also his first ever grand tour.

The climbing support roles will be filled by Jacques Janse van Rensburg (South Africa), Natnael Berhane (Eritrea), Igor Anton (Spain) and Ben King (USA). The ever-versatile Jaco Venter completes the line-up and the South African will prove valuable to Gibbons for the sprint stages and the climbers at certain moments in the race.

Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka will be the only team to feature African riders at this year's Giro.