Close but no cigar for Meyer in the Vuelta
Orica-GreenEdge’s Cameron Meyer is showing flashes of promise in the gruelling Vuelta a Espana but the 24-year-old Australian still seems a long way from that elusive first Grand Tour stage win – and even further from becoming his team’s credible GC contender.
Following the first rest day, Meyer has been in swashbuckling form in Spain with a top ten in the individual time trial backed up by successive breakaways, including Friday’s nail-biting second place in Ferriol.
Alongside his team-mate Simon Clarke, winner of stage four in the ski resort of Valdezcarey, Meyer was part of a strong seven-man group that defied the peloton in the 173km stage 13 through Galicia.
With the pack in disarray and yet closing in, Britain’s Steve Cummings – one of Cadel Evans’s BMC team-mates from the Tour – launched a decisive attack three kilometres from the finish.
Meyer and Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) were the only escapees who could react – but Cummings held on, forcing Meyer to settle for second place behind Flecha, four seconds behind.
It was the closest Meyer has come to a victory in a Grand Tour – and he’ll be kicking himself for allowing Cummings to deprive him the opportunity of contesting the win.
Earlier in the week, Meyer rode a strong time trial between Cambados to Pontevedra in stage 11, holding on to the best time for a long period before eventually sinking to eighth place.
The next day in the long 190km stage 12, Meyer succeeded where many had failed. As break after break was reeled in during a frenetic opening to the race, Meyer and three others finally formed the move that stuck after 75km of riding.
The quartet combined well to establish a seven-minute lead with 80km remaining.
With four and a half minutes to play with entering the final 35km, the break looked all but certain to contest the win atop the arduous Mirador de Ezaro ramp overlooking the Atlantic coast.
But nothing can be guaranteed in cycling – and as soon as the Katusha and Movistar teams of Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde combined on the front of the peloton, the lead was whittled down fast.
Starting the final 2km climb to the finish, the four riders had less than 40 seconds – clearly not enough considering the 20% maximum gradient and the calibre of the riders leading the chase.
Unsurprisingly, it was the red jersey of rampant Rodriguez who took the win in a thrilling uphill sprint against fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador.
Meyer finished best of the breakaway riders but down in 28th place, more than a minute off the pace.
Being caught inside the final two kilometres of a stage in the Vuelta is not something entirely new for Meyer: in last week’s stage eight to Andorra, the Perth-born rider was the last of six escapees to be caught on the final climb of the day, the arduous Collada de la Galina (like ‘Ezaro’s Lookout’, making its maiden appearance in the Vuelta).
Needing at least four minutes at the start of the final Cat.1 climb, the leading sextet had just two.
Where the others all fast faltered, Meyer rode alone solo and it was not until inside the final two kilometres that he was eclipsed by the race’s Big Four: Spaniards Rodriguez, Contador and Valverde, and the Briton Chris Froome.
Meyer would finish one minute and 37 seconds down in 20th place.
While three strong rides in three contrasting breaks plus a top ten in the Vuelta’s only time trial may be a respectable return for a former track specialist still clearly learning the ropes on the road, we shouldn’t get too carried away either.
For all his promise, Meyer still has no solid results to show for his efforts. Friday’s second place was admirable, but on paper you would expect Meyer to beat a rider like Cummings, especially given the Brit’s injury concerns this year (he broke his pelvis in February).
The harsh reality is that Meyer finished the Individual Time Trial two seconds slower than another Australian, Richie Porte.
Despite three gutsy breaks, he has failed to do what Aussie team-mate Clarke – another former track high-flyer – achieved in the opening week: that’s to say, both contest the win and take the spoils.
What’s more – the reason why Meyer has been allowed to infiltrate these breaks in the first place is quite simple: he’s sufficiently low down on the general classification not to be seen as a threat from the Vuelta’s main players.
Worse still, Meyer is not even seen as a big enough threat to those targeting the stage wins.
So, if Meyer can be congratulated for finally forming the breaks that stuck in stages 12 and 13, it was precisely because the make-up of those breaks was not deemed a veritable hazard.
They formed as much because of the riders’ persistence as the indifference of the pack – and a talent like Meyer should aspire more than sparking apathy among his colleagues.
Meyer is currently 93rd on GC, almost one hour down on race leader Rodriguez. It’s a gap that will no doubt swell over the next eight days of racing – which includes five pulsating mountain-top finishes.
So far in his Grand Tour history, Meyer has only even finished the Giro d’Italia twice – finishing 137th in both 2010 and 2011.
A debut Vuelta could see him break the top 100, but that’s not good enough for Australian cycling’s next biggest thing.
And yet for the time being, it’s not a huge cause for concern.
Meyer is still making the transition from track to road; but he’s a time trial specialist who was beaten by the likes of habitual ITT deadweights Valverde and Rodriguez in a Grand Tour race against the clock, albeit one that included a Cat.3 climb right in the middle.
Meyer’s biggest problem at the moment is a lack of direction. He has no specific role at Orica-GreenEdge.
Billed by many as the Australian team’s long-term GC prospect, the former winner of the Tour Down Under is very far from even being considered a viable GC option in the major stage races.
At the same time, he cannot be spoken of in the same breath as the sport’s big time trial talents – the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin.
But Meyer has time on his side. Wiggins, Cancellara and Martin are well-established men at the peak of their powers.
Tour de France champion Wiggins didn’t ride his first Grand Tour until he was 25 after making the step sideways from the track – and it was not until he was 29 that Wiggo made his breakthrough performance with a fourth place in the 2009 Tour.
Meyer has effectively been undergoing an apprenticeship this year as his new team finds its feet. Once GreenEdge can bolster their squad with a senior GC rider in the mould of Evans or Mick Rogers, then Meyer will have the chance to shine – first in the wings, and then, perhaps, on centre-stage.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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