We learnt two things under Ballarat’s sunny skies yesterday. Firstly, that cycling is alive and well, despite recent off-field drama, and secondly, that Cameron Meyer is a very special cyclist.
If cycling has suffered because of the Lance Armstrong affair, it didn’t show at the National Criterium Championships yesterday.
The main street of Ballarat, with its shade trees and marbled statues, had already attracted a healthy crowd by the time the opening event of the program, the under-23 men, had rolled away from the start line.
The crowd continued to build throughout the women’s event, before being up to three and four deep along the home straight during the men’s race, with the balconies of the local hotels also flowing over.
Families ate picnics in the ‘infield’, while the outdoor eating areas of local cafes were jammed packed. Cycling fans and casual observers mingled happily and enjoyed the spectacle of Cameron Meyer’s brilliant solo performance.
Oh, there were jokes about Armstrong, and the odd sarcastic utterance here and there, but this was an event to be celebrated, and the doom and gloom that surrounded the release of the Reasoned Decision had no place here. It was a day to enjoy, and enjoy it we did.
Criterium racing always has a carnival atmosphere, and when combined with perfect weather and high speed, there is no better form of the sport. Throw Cameron Meyer into the mix and you have an event worth sticking around for.
Meyer is one of the most versatile cyclists this country has produced, and also one of its most talented. From the helter-skelter of the madison to the loneliness of an individual time trial and everything in between, Meyer goes about his business with a minimum of fuss, collecting national and world titles at will.
And now the multiple track and road title holder has another to add to his palmares. National Criterium champion.
It mattered not that some, if not most, of the watching crowd were unaware of his pedigree leading into this race. In fact, the realisation that they were watching something special wasn’t immediately apparent.
But like a slow burning fuse, it gradually dawned that something remarkable was happening. That rider in the Orica-GreenEdge colours was not going to be caught.
Meyer had broken away early. Very early. After failed attempts by his brother Travis and then Ballarat local Patrick Shaw, Meyer launched an ambitious solo attempt. Ten minutes in and with a plethora of laps to go, he was gone.
He stretched his lead out to around 20 seconds, and that’s where it stayed, lap after lap after lap.
At first the crowd were unsure, feeling that this would be yet another brave but ultimately doomed breakaway. They clapped politely as he passed and wondered aloud about the worth of such an attempt.
Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisors got organised and tried to pull him back but failed. Drapac tried. Team Budget Forklifts had a crack. The most powerful teams on the domestic circuit had no answer. One by one they fell by the wayside, the peloton dwindling as lap after vicious lap saw rider after exhausted rider pull to the side, their race over.
A ripple of excitement pulsed through the crowd. They pushed closer to the barriers, eager to catch a glimpse of Meyer as he raced on by. Many started timing the gap. 22 seconds this time. 26 seconds the next.
The polite applause was gone. Now there was full throated cheering, football type barracking that followed the young Western Australian all the way up Sturt street, like a Mexican wave of sound.
It was a symbiosis of rider and crowd, each feeding off the other.
Five laps to go… four laps… three laps… and the race is over. What’s left of the peloton is red faced and drained. This race belongs to Meyer.
Speaking to The Roar after the race, Meyer paid tribute to the crowd.
“They were fantastic. They were a bit silent actually about halfway through and I think they were thinking ‘This is a bit weird, there’s no way he’s going to hold on to it.’”
“Then they started really lifting, believing that I could actually stay away and that gave me a lot of confidence. So every time I came up the home straight it gave me that little edge to get up and over that hill into the head wind.”
This is how cycling should be. Fans being inspired by riders and riders being inspired by fans. It was cycling at its best. The future is bright.