Careers start with optimism and curiosity, then reality intervenes. While a small number of athletes go on to achieve everything people predict for them, the majority discover limitations over time.
There are many examples from the past; riders who some considered future Tour de France winners, but who had to settle for other goals. Jean Francois Bernard was one of those; a stage winner and yellow jersey in the 1987 Tour, his nickname of the next Bernard Hinault proved to be inaccurate.
A little more recently Tom Danielson and Fabian Cancellara are two riders who some suggested could chase yellow, but whose career path took them in different directions.
Australia’s Cameron Meyer was also once considered as someone who could potentially go on to challenge for the general classification in Grand Tours. Those suggestions came early in his road career but, at age 27, he has made clear that his GC ambitions are limited to shorter stage races.
Speaking to CyclingTips, Meyer stated that the number of those who have the capabilities of fighting day in, day out for three weeks is very limited.
“You quickly find out that there are only a few guys in the world who can do a Grand Tour for the GC,” he told CyclingTips at last week’s Presidential Tour of Turkey, talking close to the sign on area at the start of a stage. Straining to speak above the amplified race announcer, he talked of limitations and acceptance.
“One week tours is where I lie, if it has got time trials in it or is a bit of a mixed tour like this one. So that is where I want to hopefully put myself.”
Meyer showed his class at an early age when he won gold in the individual pursuit, the madison and the team pursuit at the junior world championships in 2006. In 2009 he won a senior world title in the points race – and also took silver in the team pursuit and madison – and returned the following year to take the rainbow jersey in all three.
He also nabbed three gold medals in the Commonwealth Games, thus underlining his position as one of the top talents in the velodrome.
At the same time his track career was gaining big momentum, he was doing the same on the road. He was third overall in the 2010 Tour of Oman at just 22 years of age, and the following year took a stage win plus the overall classification in the Santos Tour Down Under.
In 2013 he again showed his potential with fifth place overall finishes in the Tours of Turkey and California and won the time trial stage en route to tenth place overall in the Tour de Suisse.
Those performances earned him a place on Orica GreenEdge’s team in the Tour de France and while he was part of the winning squad in the team time trial, he finished a distant 130th in the general classification.
Meyer opted for the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España last year rather than returning to the Tour. However he ended up withdrawing from both. A stage win in the Tour de Suisse was the biggest highlight.
Unsurprisingly, given his two past stage wins in that event, he names the WorldTour race as one of his big goals for the season.
“The Tour de Suisse is always been a good one for me,” he said. “I have had a few good results over the past couple of years so I am on that again. Post that we will see. Hopefully after that maybe the Vuelta at the end of the year. I went close to a couple of stages a few years ago so we will see how that goes.”
Given that he didn’t mention the Tour de France in that programme, CyclingTips asked for confirmation that he intended to miss the Tour and instead focus completely on the Spanish event.
“Probably,” he answered. “There is always the chance that if you go well at Swiss or Dauphine that the team is going to take the best lineup. So hopefully I can put a good foot forward at the Tour de Suisse and we will see where that puts me. But I am just focussed on Suisse at the moment.”
Meyer’s 2014 season started well with ninth in the Herald Sun Tour but was filled more with disappointments than successes. It was a tough year for him but he reset the clock and got things off to a strong start this season with victory in the same event.
He went into it having ridden solidly in the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race; as he explains, he was thrust into the leadership position after Simon Gerrans crashed hard in training in December and fractured his collarbone.
“I got the call up to Down Under and that when Gerro was out,” the 27 year old explained. “Originally I wasn’t on Tour Down Under, then all of a sudden I found myself doing 22 race days by the time I got to Europe.”
Those 22 race days included the Herald Sun Tour, where he grabbed the leader’s jersey when he won stage one to Bendigo. He then defended it in style on the uphill finish to Arthur’s Seat, netting second behind Patrick Bevin and winning the race outright.
“It was good,” he said, speaking about the morale burst that brought to him and the team. “We were very close to so many results – the nationals, and at the Down Under we went close on so many stages. So to win the Sun Tour just gave us that kick-start to the season.
“There was a little bit of pressure on us, obviously, racing in Oz and with Gerro out. It put that extra bit of pressure on us, but it was good.”
The block of racing led to him taking a break afterwards; it hadn’t originally been intended that he would compete so intensively at the start of the year, and so he had to back off afterwards and build up again.
As a result of that he was underprepared for the Volta a Catalunya and had a tough time there, finishing back in 108th. He said that he hoped he was in good shape for the Presidential Tour of Turkey.
As things turned out, he wasn’t quite where he had been in 2013 when he finished fifth overall. He ended up back in 30th place, but helped the team on other stages, including being part of the squad which set Caleb Ewan up for second place on stage one.
“He smoked that one pretty easily”
Speaking of Ewan, Meyer is one of the riders who will be able to impart important advice as the young rider develops. Although he is not a sprinter, he has built up experience in his seven pro seasons and will have important pointers if Ewan wants help.
The 20 year old has had a superb start to his pro career thus far, notching up five UCI victories thus far as well as other non-UCI successes.
While he will need a period of time to adjust to the higher level, particularly in the hillier stages, it seems fair to say that his victories plus close second place to Cavendish on day one in Turkey have confirmed the view of him as a sprinter who could go on to big things.
Asked what he thinks about Ewan’s future, Meyer was enthusiastic.
“It is very bright, isn’t it? I did the early Australian stuff with him when he got a couple of wins in the Sun Tour and he did that pretty easily,” he said. “He then came over to Rioja and he smoked that one pretty easily.”
He said what was important is that he has time on his side, and a team which is willing to be patient.
“You can see that they are trying to develop him into it,” he said, referring to the Orica-GreenEdge management’s approach.
“It is not WorldTour race after WorldTour race. So definitely he puts a foot in the door by starting these races, getting a test against Cavendish, trying to get the morale up. Then I am sure in the future years you will see him in Grand Tours and stuff.”
With Meyer underlining that he doesn’t consider himself as a rider who can challenge for Grand Tour success, the team will obviously have to look elsewhere for that kind of talent.
Orica GreenEdge has made clear that it is taking a medium to long-term approach, stating that budget constraints mean that the squad can’t simply buy in the sort of riders who are already in a position to chase yellow in the Tour and pink and red in the Giro and Vuelta respectively.
He agrees that the Yates brothers Simon and Adam fit into this longer-term general classification slot.
“They and Esteban Chavez are showing that they can ride the really hard climbs with the Froomes and the Nibalis and that,” he said, “and really handle their pace on the bigger climbs.
“I mean, they are still years away from developing their time trial and that sort of thing that goes along with three weeks. But definitely over one week you have seen some good results that tell you that they could possibly be Grand Tour contenders in the future.”
Meyer is content with that. He’s frank in his acceptance that he doesn’t fit that category of rider, and will instead focus on helping the team and chasing success in the shorter stage races. Those goals might not be as lofty as some predicted initially, but he has a better idea of his strengths and weaknesses now and seems at ease with the stated targets.
But what about the track? Does he ever consider returning to the discipline where he has taken multiple world championship medals, perhaps in time for Rio 2016?
“For now it is just road,” he said, when asked about his focus. “If they ever brought the points race and the Madison back to the Olympic Games, I am sure that would entice me to go back to the track. But at the moment it is only the omnium and the team pursuit.”
He knows nothing will change before Rio 2016; besides, he recognises that he couldn’t just slot back into the team after several years away.
“Next year is the Olympics and the Australian track team is already pretty sorted in that,” he said. “I don’t think I could step back into that so quickly.
“So it would be long term, if they ever brought the points race and the madison back that I would think about going to the track. But definitely in the next year or two, it [the focus] is still on the road.”
In doing so, he will follow his stated approach; accepting limitations, setting the goals he feels he is capable of and not-overreaching. Some might see this as a lack of ambition, but that’s simply not the case for Meyer.
Instead, in a sport where people sought to bypass their limits for decades via artificial means, identifying what can naturally be done is crucial.
And, for teams, fans and journalists, accepting that is vital.