Meyer reinvigorates GC believers at Tour of California

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Cameron Meyer’s fifth place overall in the Tour of California was a reminder of his potential, and gives Orica-GreenEDGE fans some hope the squad might begin to target stage races, rather than rely on sprinters and Simon Gerrans’ guile.

Last week I had a great discussion on Twitter with some of my fellow contributors to The Roar, and some other knowledgeable cycling fans, about where Australia’s next Grand Tour general classification rider is coming from, and in particular when we should be expecting GreenEDGE’s first real GC rider to emerge.

There was widespread agreement that OGE cannot rely on sprint victories indefinitely, and at some point the team will need to turn its focus to acquiring or developing a Grand Tour contender (or two).

Naming this GC contender proved more difficult.

Australia has a limited pool of proven GC riders, and a larger pool of developing youngsters, most of whom are outstanding time triallists or sprinters.

Cadel Evans’ determined effort to wind back the clock in the Giro d’Italia notwithstanding, his career is clearly closer to the end than the beginning, and he seems happy at BMC for the foreseeable future.

Mick Rogers is also still capable of strong results in stage races, with his second overall in California. But Rogers’ ambitions in Grand Tours while riding for Saxo-Tinkoff are limited to grinding Alberto Contador’s rivals into whimpering submission before saving his energy for the next day.

OGE could do a lot worse than Rogers as an experienced substitute for Stuart O’Grady when he eventually calls it a day, but we’re really looking for young guns to pressure for podium places for the better part of the coming decade.

Richie Porte is clearly going beautifully at Sky, but he will be at Sky for at least another season. When he signed with Sky for 2014, Porte told Cycling Central he didn’t seriously consider a move to OGE because the team is not structured to support a GC rider:

“At the moment it’s not a team where GC is a focus. If I was to go there you’d have to bring a few guys along with you. At this point in my career, I don’t need stress thinking about unknowns, I just want to put my head down and learn the trade and here I can learn it off the best.”

Porte is, of course, absolutely right. OGE is built around sprinters and opportunists. Its Grand Tour strategy relies on a Plan A featuring Matt Goss, and a Plan B featuring repeated attempts to get Pieter Weening into breakaways.

When Goss is lacking form, or is ill (as has been the case in this Giro), the team can look dangerously one-dimensional.

Weening is a good rider and a capable climber, but he’s not riding for GC. He’s also not Australian (which was one of our original criteria).

The development of sprinters Leigh Howard and Michael Matthews is encouraging, but you don’t take three sprinters to a Grand Tour, and they don’t scratch the GC itch.

So the desire for a more rounded set of goals, and the search for a new home-grown GC rider, is understandable but elusive.

For several years, Cameron Meyer has been widely considered the man most likely.

His track pedigree as multiple world champion; his 2011 victory in the Tour Down Under; a top-ten in Tirreno-Adriatico; dominant performances in national titles; all of these point to a rider capable of taking the next step.

The frustrating factor is there hasn’t been a significant linear improvement in Meyer’s results on the road. A series of injuries (including a nasty-sounding bout of saddle sores requiring surgery earlier this season) undoubtedly hasn’t helped, but that’s a factor for every cyclist.

So Meyer’s fifth place in the Tour of California (I refuse to name its sponsor) was an encouraging sign. Even more so, he was only a handful of seconds away from a podium position.

Watching the OGE Backstage Pass after stage seven of the Tour of California, you can see a steely edge to his eyes: usually relaxed and easy-going, it’s clear Meyer was not happy to relinquish his podium place. This is a good sign.

Meyer’s next stage race is the Tour de Suisse, traditionally a good tune-up for the Tour de France. Another good performance there would get OGE fans salivating for a possible Tour de France ride.

Meyer is now 25, and getting to an age where serious performances are expected. Inevitably, he will be compared with other riders his age, such as Tejay Van Garderen, Rigoberto Uran, Rafal Majka, and Carlos Betancur, all of whom have performed (or are performing) well at Grand Tour level.

Cameron Meyer may or may not turn into Orica-GreenEDGE’s first genuine GC hope, but his performance in California will give his fans reason for optimism.

Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.