Cam Meyer returns to cycling with a focus on the track: ‘I needed to take time away’

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When Cameron Meyer and Dimension Data announced in June that they’d parted ways with immediate effect, many cycling fans were left with questions. Meyer had cited “personal issues” for his departure, but no further information was forthcoming.

Many wondered whether there had been a falling-out between Meyer and team management, while others were left concerned for Meyer’s wellbeing. And with the 28-year-old shying away from the media, it was nearly four months until we’d hear any more.

But earlier this week, nearly four months after Meyer’s departure from the sport, his management revealed that he’s back on the bike and back in training, and all with some big goals in mind. CyclingTips caught up with the six-time track world champion to find out more about his time away from cycling and what might be next.

Stepping away

Cameron Meyer’s departure from Dimension Data came suddenly, and with 18 months remaining on his two-year contract. But there was a simple explanation: he needed time off the bike, to rediscover his passion for the sport.

“I’d been going a long time — I started when I was 12 years old — and I just got to a point where I had to take some time off just to see where I wanted to head,” Meyer told CyclingTips. “I can’t exactly even pinpoint it myself as to why it happened, or why I felt like that was the time I needed a break. I just knew that was the time.”

After spending much of his early career as a track endurance rider, Meyer got his first pro road contract in 2009 when he signed with Garmin-Slipstream for two years. In 2012 he joined GreenEdge in its inaugural season, eventually spending four years with the setup before leaving for Dimension Data in early 2016.

Despite an impressive start to the year — a second place at the Australian Road Nationals — Meyer would soon struggle for motivation. He didn’t feel he was getting the best out of himself, nor giving as much to his team as he should.

“Even though I could get away with it in races, I knew that the motivation was slowly going and I needed to take a different direction and to be able to figure out exactly what that direction was,” Meyer explained. “At the time I couldn’t do it while I was still having to fulfil my contract and still race at that level.”

Dimension Data team management was surprised when Meyer requested a contract termination, but supported his decision to step away. Team principal Doug Ryder told CyclingTips at the time that it “was a shock”.

“He did withdraw from the team for the Tour of California because he needed some time, which we gave him,” Ryder said in June. “He then came back and said he didn’t want to be a burden on the team, feels bad that he is not competing and that this [walking away – ed.] is the best thing.”

Speaking to CyclingTips this week, Meyer was clear that his need to step away was “nothing to do with the team”.

“I think they knew that it was more a personal issue and it’s something they had to let happen,” he said. “I know that it wasn’t good for me to continue in that path, not only for my own future but for having someone on the team that was probably not performing or training at the required level and going along with the season until the contract was done.”

Meyer returned to Australia for two weeks around the time of his departure announcement, to spend time with family and friends. He then headed back to his European base in Andorra where he would spend the summer reflecting on what he wanted out of cycling.

He didn’t ride his bike for two months.

“I know that most professionals, as we finish the season in October it’s like ‘Right, you’re only allowed three or four weeks off and then you’ve got to get back on because it’s your job’ but I wasn’t under any obligation to get back on on a certain date,” Meyer said. “I now know, looking back, that that really helped. I really needed that break without an obligation of getting back on the bike, and just let it happen naturally.”

In stepping away from the sport, Meyer realised that he did still have big ambitions, particularly on the track.

“Once that really kicked in, that motivation came back … that made it so much easier to get on the bike,” Meyer said. “It made it easier to go and push yourself on the bike as well.

“Talking with the Australian team from the track point of view really helped because I was able to set out ‘Righto, I’m going to target that World Cup, and I’m going to target possibly making the world championship team next year again’. So once I had that in place things just sort of fell into place in terms of getting back on the bike and starting training again.”

The road (and track) ahead

Cameron Meyer’s career has taken a similar trajectory to many others who have combined track endurance ambitions with road commitments. He dominated on the track as a junior, winning three world titles in 2006, and began to race more on the road as he joined the senior ranks.

He’d continue to race track with great success, winning three senior world titles in 2010, three Commonwealth Gold medals in Delhi that same year, and more world titles in 2011 and 2012. And he was getting results on the road as well, achieving overall victory at the Tour Down Under in 2011 and stage wins at the Tour de Suisse in 2013 and 2014. He was also part of stage-winning Orica-GreenEdge time trial squads at the 2013 Tour de France and 2014 Giro d’Italia.

But while the road has been Meyer’s primary focus throughout the past four years, it will be the track that’s the greater priority in this next phase of his career. In particular, it’s the prospect of representing his country at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and 2020 Tokyo Olympics that holds greatest appeal.

“I’ve got world titles under my belt on the track and also Commonwealth Games gold medals, but that elusive medal in the Olympic Games is that one I want,” Meyer said. “It actually sounds a lot like Mark Cavendish — he had world titles medals … and he missed that elusive [Olympic] medal on the track and he made sure he did everything right to get a medal in Rio.

“That’s sort of the pathway that I’ll take — I’ll make sure that I try to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s and make sure that Tokyo is a good result.”

In part, Meyer’s focus for the years ahead will depend on an announcement due partway through next year. It’s at that point that the International Olympic Committee will announce which events will make up the track program in Tokyo.

“I would love a madison or a single points score to return. Obviously they were my pet events and they got taken out for the London and Rio Olympics,” Meyer said. “There is talk that the Madison is a good chance of coming back; there’s also a chance that the Omnium format will change into a more bunch-race orientated event and take out a lot of those timed events, which helps my ability to perform better.

“And then obviously the team pursuit as well. It’s been a long time since I done a team pursuit, but I know it’s a big priority for the Australian team so if I can play a part there as well we’ll see how that evolves.”

While it’s on the velodrome Meyer expects to spend much of his time, he hasn’t waved goodbye to his road career. He’ll almost certainly be in action during the Australian summer of racing, and he won’t just be making up the numbers.

“I love the Australian summer — I’ve been knocking on the door of those national titles and Tour Down Unders every summer and I really love that racing that we have in Australia to kick the season off,” Meyer said. “So I’m sure I’ll be knocking around somewhere there, trying to be competitive.”

Meyer doesn’t have a road contract in place for 2017 and feels no pressure to seek one out. He’ll race the Road Nationals as an individual and then hope his performance there will earn him selection for the UniSA-Australian team at the Tour Down Under, and for the national team for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

While Meyer hasn’t looked beyond the Australian summer in terms of road targets, would that change if he was able to win an elusive national title? After all, with a second place, two fourth places and a sixth on the Mt. Buninyong nationals circuit, he’s almost always in the mix.

“I dunno,” Meyer said with a chuckle. “That’s hard to think of. I’ve always been around that podium or top five for the last eight years so I couldn’t imagine what it would do, but it would mean a lot to me to get it.

“I’m sure I’ll go there and try and give it another go and hopefully the breakaway will come back one of these years …”

On October 25th, a little under three weeks from now, Cameron Meyer will make his return to international racing, lining up at the London Six Day track carnival. He’ll be hoping for a strong performance, of course, but perhaps even more so for a smooth return to competition. It will have been nearly six months since his last international race and nearly eight since his last international track race.

Regardless of how it goes, one thing’s for certain: Cameron Meyer’s return to cycling will be a welcome one for his many fans and for Australian cycling in general.

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