Rejuvenated Cameron Meyer happy with life and cycling, and eyeing a possible WorldTour return

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Cameron Meyer sits, smiles and relaxes. It’s the evening after a stage of the An Post Rás in Ireland and he – we – are in a quiet hotel in the northwest of Ireland. Outside are rolling fields dotted with gorse, rocky mountain slopes and a nearby beach. It’s peaceful, but there’s also a calmness about Meyer himself.

Earlier that day young Australian national team rider Michael Storer won the fourth stage of the Irish race, helped by Meyer. The older Australian has been acting as a road captain for the team, advising Storer and others, and feels a sense of satisfaction at how things worked out.

Yet his contentment is not just due to that. Last June he walked away from a pro contract with the Dimension Data team, citing what he termed ongoing personal issues. The decision was perplexing to many: Meyer was a successful athlete, someone who had won the Santos Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour, scooped a stage of the Tour de Suisse, and taken team time trial successes in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

He was also also a six-time world track cycling champion in the team pursuit, madison and points race. At 28 years of age it seemed like he had many more years ahead. Yet something wasn’t right.

Just four months after that shock decision, he was back. He announced that he had lost motivation, needed time away and was now refocusing on track racing. That quickly paid off: he was second in the Madison at the Glasgow World Cup, then scooped gold in the points race and the team pursuit at the world track championships.

He also shone on the road, taking fourth in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and almost winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race. He was caught just before the line in the latter event and placed third.

Now, months later, Meyer seems in better spirits than we can remember before. He comes across as relaxed, content and enthusiastic about the sport. He’s regained his zest for cycling and, it seems, for life in general.

In the following interview, Meyer talks about his physical resurgence and mental transformation, the reasons for his departure and his return, his short- and long-term plans, and also his ambition to return to the WorldTour once again.

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CyclingTips: You seem happier than the last time we chatted. Can you talk about how different you feel now and what that break has done for you?

Cameron Meyer: Yeah, it has done a lot. It was definitely very hard at the time to go through a big change, obviously, leaving the WorldTour and taking a break from the bike. That was a bit of a shock to everyone, and a shock to myself.

But since I have been back racing, I have had a different outlook. I’ve a real positive outlook on my racing and I’m really enjoying it.

I’m also enjoying being a part of the Australian track team, which is a young group going forward. Also the road team too – it has a young group going forward. Being part of those has been really rejuvenating, in a way.

So I am really enjoying my racing. I don’t have the pressures of a contract or anything at the moment. That’s not to say that is not anywhere in the near future, but for the moment I am just enjoying my racing, taking each race as it comes and trying to help out the young guys as much as I can as well, which I really enjoy.

If you look at yourself 12 months ago, how different are you now?

Definitely it is all in the mental side of things. But also physically, I think I am in better condition than I was back then. I couldn’t seem to get the most out of my training, get the most out of my racing back in those final couple of years I was in the WorldTour. There was a lot of pressure coming from myself, possibly coming from contracts.

Now being a bit more free, I am just enjoying my racing again. I actually think I am performing better. I had a great world championships on the track, I had a great track season. Also on the road early season … I had a great Tour Down Under, I was third in Cadel’s Race, I nearly pulled that off. I got fourth in the general classification at the Herald Sun Tour, and I am going all right here. So it has been really good so far.

So do you put that down to the release of the pressure, or the physical break that you had, the time away from the bike?

I think it is a bit of both. I think I definitely needed the physical break. When I look back at it, I didn’t manage that very well before. I think I raced too much, trained too hard. I just combined it all. I think I didn’t know how to manage that off-season and take the switch off and take those breaks.

I think you need to take more mini-breaks and really appreciate when you do have the time off the bike. Whereas I was quite a full-on rider, someone who was stressing about trying to get more training in and being ready for the next event.

I hadn’t taken a break since I was probably 12 years old. And I turned professional quite young — I was eight years professional. Now, looking back at it, I think I should have managed that a bit better. Since I have taken that time off, since I have come back, my body has been responding really well to the training and racing. And mentally as well, I am really a lot fresher.
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Did you do work with Charlie Walsh? Were you part of that setup?

No, that was before my time.

The reason why I ask is I remember at the time it was said that a lot of Australians who quit early did so because they were burned out, perhaps by being worked so hard. You said you were working hard since 12 years of age. So was that coming from the AIS, or was it yourself driving you on?

No, I think it was from myself. I did step in early to the Australian Institute of Sport system, and I stepped into the junior world championships and all those big races that you do early. Australians take it seriously from a young age.

And I was one of those riders who did take it quite seriously. I wanted to turn professional, I did it quite early. I also had the Olympic Games when I was 20 years of age on the track. So everything happened so quick. And in those first few years, it was full on.

I also then quickly got a reputation of trying to get results at quite a young age. The talk of me possibly being a Grand Tour rider or a GC rider … that took off for a while. I tried to go down that road of riding GC. I could see it at one-week stage races, then the pressure to try to step up to a Grand Tour started.

It didn’t really fit my personality. It didn’t fit my physical capabilities, I don’t think. There are certain one-week stage races which I think I can handle. But I think the pressure of the Grand Tours and that — there are only so many guys that can win Grand Tours.

And with Cadel Evans winning the Tour, that time must have put even more expectation on you …

Yeah, exactly. There was a lot of that. Now I understand who I am, what sort of rider I am and what I am capable of. I think that is going to help me going ahead.

Winning on the track.

‘It gave the confidence that I can be part of that programme for Tokyo’

You had that fantastic track worlds performance this year. How important was it for you to do that?

It was really good. It gave me confidence that, going back to the track after a long time away from the world championships, I am still at that level. That I am still at the level that I am able to compete for the world titles. And, hopefully, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games in the near future. So that gave me a lot of confidence.

I think it also gave Cycling Australia a lot of confidence as well. Because realistically we can’t hide behind the fact that our last Olympic campaigns haven’t gone too well. We have gone there with riders who have tried to juggle road and track.

They are at a bit of a crossroads, I think, of trying to find what is the right path, who are the right athletes. And so me proving that I could perform at that level again at the age of 29 now, I think, gave the confidence that I can be part of that programme going forward to Tokyo.

And it’s great that you did that at the track worlds, but also that you did what you did in the Sun Tour, Down Under and the Cadel Race.

Yes…

So what about the young talents, guys like Michael Storer. What is your impression of those?

Ah, the team that we have got here [at the An Post Rás] is fantastic. Both across the track and the road at the moment, we have got unbelievable talents. And Michael winning today was fantastic. I actually said to one of the Irish teams before the start … they asked me out of their car, ‘who is your pick to win today?’ I said, ‘Michael Storer will win today.’

I don’t think they believed me that I could actually pick the winner. But I knew straight away what our tactic was today and Michael then went and executed that perfectly.

Guys like himself, Lucas Hamilton, Jai Hindley on the road … they are unbelievable riders and I am sure we will see them in the WorldTour soon. And then on the track we have got multiple guys that are winning world titles. So, across the board, the talent in Australia at the moment is fantastic.

What is next for you after this race?

At the moment I have sort of got a programme until the first week of July. It is just racing with the national team. I joined this young group here. I will do a little bit with some of the track guys who are based out of Belgium as well. But I will do a bit more training in Spain where I have still got my home base.

I will join the Belgian group, and then also I have got the Fiorenzuola Six Day on the outdoor track in Italy in the first week of July. It is not too much at the moment; it is not a heap of racing. But it is enough to keep me going at the moment, and then we will see where I head after that.

Cameron Meyer (Australian National Team) in action during the An Post Ras in Ireland, May 2017.

Key advice: ‘Just make sure you recharge the batteries’

In retrospect, if you could advise your younger self, what would you say?

I probably wouldn’t take back the fact that I tried to be as professional as [soon as] I could. But I would definitely tell my younger self to really make sure that you balance off the bike as well as how well I did on the bike.

Off the bike, it is about being relaxed and having those mental switch-offs. Those good breaks when you do get the chance to have some time off the bike, even if it is a week in the middle of the season, or little three-day getaways.

And just managing that lifestyle off the bike was probably something that I didn’t do too well. I was just one-focussed, and that was on the bike. And so I would really advise myself to really balance my lifestyle a little bit.

Is that advice that you are giving to these guys as well? You have a mentor role, so does that extend to off-the-bike tips as well?

Yeah, I did. I was with Brad McGee at the Tour Down Under this year, and we had a really young group. Brad wanted to use as much of my experience, and even the stuff that was hard for me over the last six months at that time, to pass on to these guys. And that was a clear message that I tried to send.

“I know how much you all want to go professional, you want to win these big bike races, and that is fantastic. But the advice that I could give was to make sure that when you do get those opportunities to have a bit of a break or have a three-day holiday somewhere or take some downtime, just make sure that you recharge the batteries. Because we put enough pressure on ourselves.”

They want to go professional, get the big results, but those times off the bike, or that lifestyle outside of cycling, is just as important.

When you are on races like the An Post Rás, are you acting as a road captain?

Yeah, a bit of a road captain with these guys. So, I will be the guy who goes back to the car and talks with the DS James Victor, to talk about the tactic that we want to do. And then it’s to try and communicate with the guys and bring them together in the race. We don’t have race radios here, so just trying to also read the race as best as I can.

I have a bit of experience to then pass on some tactics and advice to them and hopefully get results like we did today. It was great teamwork that made that result.

You have talked about your programme up until the summer. Longer-term, I guess Commonwealths are going to be a big target?

Yeah. Looking ahead on the track, it is the Commonwealth Games next season. It will be the world championships in the next three years as well, but the Commonwealth Games is the big one because it is on the Gold Coast in Australia next year.

And then obviously Tokyo would be the end goal of this Olympic cycle.

And going for gold, obviously. I guess riding the way you did in the worlds has got to give you confidence …

Yeah, definitely. In Australia at the moment, we have got a great pool of talent. Especially now in male track endurance events. Our team pursuit times showed this year that we are really stepping things up. My bunch racing is still going well, so hopefully we can produce some good results at the Commonwealth Games, and then set ourselves up for the Olympics. And hopefully perform better than we have.

I don’t hide the fact that we haven’t performed in the last couple of Olympics and hopefully I am part of that new squad.

It will be interesting to see if British cycling will be affected. They have been under a lot of pressure about coaching techniques and treatment of riders …

Yes … they have been under a lot of pressure.

Winning at the 2014 Tour de Suisse with Orica-GreenEdge.

Returning to a big road contract?

You mentioned in passing about the WorldTour. Do you think it is a possibility to go back there?

I do see it as a possibility. If there is a team out there and the contract and the road results all fit in. Obviously they will know that I do have ambitions and priorities on the track at certain parts of the season with the Tokyo Olympics as a goal. But I definitely think I have shown that I can perform at the Tour Down Unders, Cadel’s Races and be here in the European summer to produce some good results and to ride for a team as well. To help a team out.

If there is a team out there that is willing to come to a contract that sees me fitting in with that, then I would be happy to take it. I am not rushing into anything, I am not at a stage where I want to rush it. But I am sure there is a road team that will fit into that equation, whether it be at the WorldTour level, the Pro Continental level. I am sure in the next year or so I will figure that out.

So you are open to offers?

Yeah, for sure.

And if it’s next season that’s fine – there is no major rush to get to that point?

No, I am in no rush to get to that point. I think I am managing my training well. The racing that I am getting with the Australian team and the opportunities they are giving me is enough to keep myself at a good level. And if by next season I get the offer to sign with a team, then that would be great.

Having stepped away, do you feel that you need to achieve more road results to secure a new deal?

I don’t think so. I think they know the results that I have been able to achieve. And they know that I now come with a certain age and a certain amount of experience. If they see the track side of things fitting in, and my riding style to help the team and possibly to get my own results in certain races that suit me — if they then see that fitting in, I don’t think it is going to take me winning an An Post Rás to sign the contract.

We will see where that goes. Maybe it is a road result, but I will just race the races as they come.

And you have this rekindled enthusiasm to offer …

Yes, exactly.

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Cameron Meyer was very closely marked in the An Post Rás, due both to his past as a WorldTour rider and also because of his strong results. Despite that, he was second on stage five and went on to finish third overall in the race. He was regarded as one of the strongest in the event. Bigger results seem certain down the line.

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