Considering the disciplines…

The 2012 UCI track world championships will be contested at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena from 4-8 April. In the next issue of RIDE Cycling Review, we look back at the history of the Madison and preview the worlds. Here is the full transcript of a recent interview with multiple world champion Cameron Meyer.

By Rob Arnold

Leigh Howard and Cameron Meyer during the world championships in Holland in 2011. PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada

Leigh Howard and Cameron Meyer during the world championships in Holland in 2011. PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada

RIDE: Can you explain how you came to the Madison?

Cameron Meyer: “My first one was the under-19 national championships in which I tried to get a good result as that’s some of the first true exposure you get to selectors and I was trying to make the Australian team for the junior world championships. In my first under-19 year, when I was still 16, I made the national team to ride the Madison.”

Now you’ve got two world titles on the trot but you’re being encouraged to not ride the worlds in Melbourne in 2012. Can you explain that?

“Yeah, it’s a hard year next year with the world championships being held in Melbourne with a home crowd and obviously the Olympics not too far after that. With the Madison no longer part of the Games, priority is given to Olympic events. It’s difficult to fit all the different events into my program because I’m so passionate about trying to defend my Madison world title with Leigh Howard and also ride the points race.

“Trying to fit in the Olympic events on top of that makes it a huge program. But the Madison is very special to me and obviously we’ll be hoping to go and try to win another world title. I’m sure I’ll be in Melbourne with Leigh doing the best we can…”

With your Olympic aspirations for London, are you considered part of the short list for the team pursuit?

“Yeah. There are probably about six or seven guys who are in the mix for those four spots for the team pursuit. I was world champion [in that discipline] back in 2010 and part of the Commonwealth Games team that has ridden the fastest Australian time so my name is in the mix but it’s going to be a tough selection to make. I’m pretty sure that the team won’t be official right up until the day of competition. Those in contention for a place will have to perform well in every event they do – as well as show good form in the training camps up until the world championships.

“I’d say that the team to be selected for the Melbourne world championships will probably be the team to go onto the Olympics because the worlds is going to be a very big even for the Australian team.”

We could easily get sidetracked and just start talking purely about the team pursuit but we’ll try and keep this discussion Madison based. Can you say what your thoughts were when Kevin Tabotta was suggesting that you might have to skip the Madison?

“It was a hard discussion when we sat down to talk about the program for the world championships. I clearly stated that the Madison and the points race are events that are very close to me and I would like to defend my titles. In the Madison, we are going for our third world championship win in a row and it is quite important in terms of later going on to ride the six-days. If you are the world champion, you get better starts at the six-days, you get better exposure when you go over to Europe… so the Madison is a huge event in terms of winning those rainbow jerseys. It counts a lot for things that follow. Leigh and I are starting to throw our names out there in the six-day circuit. We did Berlin in 2011 and we’ll do it again in 2012. And we never know, in the future we might ride some more six-days and to have the rainbow jersey will help that quite a lot.”

It was only a few decades ago when a lot of roadies were making a big winter income from the six-day scene. Is it still a good earner these days?

“I don’t think it’s probably as big as what it was a few years ago when there were some really big stars of the road racing scene come on to the track for the winter. It still is a good way to get some money and if you’re in Europe in the cold of winter it offers a chance to get in six days of fitness base and high intensity racing. That’s why you see some guys turning up these days – it’s about more than money alone. Danilo Hondo from Lampre continually does a couple of six-day races in his off-season. Even Philippe Gilbert has jumped on the track recently… and we see reports of ‘Pippo’ Pozatto racing on the velodrome. It’s becoming more common for guys to turn to the track in the European winter months. That allows them to hit the ground running. The season starts now with the Tour Down Under in January and most guys have to have good fitness.

“I think the six-days is a great way of getting that intense racing in before the road season starts.”

The Berlin six that you did in January was your first taste of that style of racing, wasn’t it?

“Yes, that was my first six-day. Leigh had done a few before that. It was a totally different world! I learned so many things and I’m sure I’ll learn even more when I go back to Berlin next year.”

Some people have the impression, for some reason, that it’s a “show” – a fixed agreement for who wins. But, from what I’ve seen, the six-days aren’t like post-Tour criteriums…

“I found that out pretty quickly. I was probably the same as many others, thinking that it was going to be quite easy – that it’s all part of a show for the crowd but it’s definitely not! We were put under a lot of pressure and the racing was pretty intense.

“I remember saying to Leigh Howard on the first night, ‘I can’t keep this up for five more nights if they keep going this fast.’

“He said, ‘Yeah, it’s really intense.’

“You’re always racing hard and doing speeds of 55 or 60 kilometres an hour every single night. In one session you could do 400 laps – almost all of them at 55km/h. Add that up over six night and you realise that it’s definitely extreme racing. If you’re not fit, you will not be up there amongst the winners.”

The Berlin track… what length is that?

“It’s a bigger one. It suits me a bit better as I come in as a rider who has done the World Cups and championship style racing. It’s the ‘normal’ length of 250m. It’s not one of the tighter six-day ones like Gent in Belgium and that really helped my style and was a help for me in my six-day introduction.”

Given that we’re looking at the history of the six-days, how would you feel about having to do a race like they did it in the early days: six days of non-stop racing?

“It would be very interesting to go back to those times. I guess it would take a lot of getting used to; it’d be a real shock to the system but for a rider like me, I think it’d be quite beneficial actually. I’ve got that ability to recover and ride long distances – but it would definitely be extreme and I certainly respect what they used to do in those days. Racing for six days straight…? That makes us seem a bit soft these days.”

You’re in an interesting predicament, being a dominant rider on the track but with also a good record of result in road races. How have you seen the disciplines evolve?

“The track is waging a difficult battle to try and keep up with the prominence of road racing. You can see it nowadays with things like the new Australian professional road team coming into existence, and Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France… road cycling is booming in Australia. Track cycling is finding it hard to keep up. The financial aspect is a big influencing factor. There are also plenty more opportunities on the road with teams from all around the world – from the NRS teams in Australia, to the emerging American and Asian scenes, to the traditional heartland of cycling in Europe.

“On the track, I’m used to being part of an Australian squad of only a handful of riders so it can be a lot more cut-throat. There aren’t as many opportunities and money is being lured more towards the road.

“Hopefully track can lift its profile and still be a really big sport and hopefully the Olympic Games can throw a few more events in to the program to really help it along.”

Can you tell me where you were in 2000 when Scott McGrory and Brett Aitken won the Madison Olympic gold in Sydney?

“I had actually only just started cycling. I can’t really remember it because I’d only just hopped on the bike in 2000. I was only 12 years old.

“But I definitely remember Athens in 2004 when Graeme Brown and Stuart O’Grady won the Madison. I’ve still got that on video tape and I would have watched that race about 100 times – it’s one of my all-time favourite videos.”

If you think about the highlights, what was the thing that really got you in? Is there one specific sprint or something that really stands out for you?

“One big thing that I remember is when the Australians are leading the bike [on the points tally and acquisition of laps] and there are probably about 30 laps or so to go. Brownie was starting to really fatigue and there were big moves coming from some of the major teams like the Swiss pair of Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli. The Spanish guys were also particularly active and there were huge moves coming off the front of the peloton.

“Stuart O’Grady was absolutely flying! He bridged a gap once when someone like Risi went down the track with an attack. O’Grady was maybe a full straight behind and he just mowed him down with ease. It didn’t look as though he was breathing. I still watch it thinking, ‘He’s a master pedaller!’ He was head and shoulders above everyone else.

“I remember watching that thinking, ‘I’d like to be at the Olympics one day and ride like Stuart O’Grady in the Madison.’ It was unbelievable to watch.”

You’ve just spent a couple of weeks hanging out with ‘Stuey’ and other future team-mates. Did you happen to relay any of your thoughts on that race to him?

“I didn’t actually talk to him about it but I was prompted to think about how impressive he still is. We had a swap-off session on the track and I was in the same team as Stuey. I remember that night going over to Matt White afterwards and saying, ‘It’s like Stuey has never left the track.’

“Athens was his last real race on the track so it’s now been seven years and he still pedals exactly the same way. I was sitting behind him in our mock team time trial and was watching him and having visions of the Athens Olympics. His pedalling action and his fluency is unbelievably good. He might not ride the track that often but it’s clear to see that he still gets a lot of benefit out of being a track rider. I can take real inspiration from watching what he does.”

Do you think we’ll see more roadies turning to the track to perfect their pedalling style? It’s a different sensation on the legs, isn’t it?

“I’m seeing a bit of a trend from riders who are good in one-day Classic races, or sprinters… they’re now using the track for training when they might not have in the past. Quite a few of the Italians like Daniele Bennati are stepping up and using the velodrome. Cavendish has a background of track racing. And there are still Grand Tour GC riders who are going back to the track once in a while. There are a lot of gains with learning to be fluid with your pedalling, cadence work and also speed work. There are many benefits and you can see that in those who have a history on the track. About 90 per cent of the Australian professionals on the road have ridden the track, the same applies for many British riders and now there are others following that lead.”

Interview by Rob Arnold (rob@ridemedia.com.au)

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