By Anthony Tan
Do not assume for one moment that Christian Meier’s innocent baby face translates to an aversion for hard work or that the 24-year-old Canadian hasn’t already experienced his share of life’s hardship. In Garmin-Transitions’ second-year recruit, VeloNews discovers an individual of quiet, burning ambition, who believes the tragic loss of a family member may well lead to a life both far from ordinary and highly rewarding.
VeloNews: You had a relatively lean season last year, compared to 2007 and 2008. Did your entry into the ProTour with Garmin-Slipstream have something to do with it?
Christian Meier: Last year for me was a very big learning experience in general. Racing in Europe and full-time in the ProTour is a lot different than what I was used to in North America. Racing in Europe was something I always felt suited me a lot better. But doing a lot of big races and experiencing (them) for the first time, and experiencing how to do all my duties as a domestique. … Last year was just all about getting as much as experience as I could in Europe.
VN: Besides the size of the peloton and the speed of the racing, what are some of the biggest adjustments you have to make from elite amateur to domestic pro to ProTour pro?
CM: I’d say the biggest difference is probably the distance of the races. The classics are around 260k, versus your average 110, 120k (races) in North America. That and longer stage races, doing my first grand tour … I mean, doing three weeks of racing, you go through a lot of ups and downs and new experiences, which are pretty cool.
VN: I noticed you’ve already posted some good results in stage races and hilly races in the past. Have you got your heart set on becoming a tour rider, or are you still trying to find your feet in that regard?
CM: I’ve always enjoyed stage races, for the most part. I’ve always felt like I could be a steady rider for a week or two or longer, but I’m still fairly young. Maybe in Europe, I might be getting a bit older — 24 or 25 is the racing age — but coming from a North American racing background, I think you mature a lot slower there as a rider. So I still consider myself quite a young rider in Europe, which means I’m still experiencing where my best potential is. But I think it might be in hilly racing like stage races, or the hilly one-day races such as the Ardennes classics.
VN: On your team’s Web site, you list one of your goals is to try to transport the most water bottles — what is the record, and have you got the record?
CM: Last in the Vuelta we tried to get that going a bit. The problem for me is that I ride an extra small jersey, so that only gives me a certain amount of room to pack them in! I think the most I’ve done is 10, 11, maybe 12 bottles at once — I think that’s okay for a guy my size.
VN: You mentioned the Vuelta as your first grand tour. What was it like for you, and did it whet your appetite to do more of the same?
CM: Oh, it was phenomenal. From the get-go, we had Tyler (Farrar), who was keen to win a stage and prove the form he had. From the first day, we set as our goal to ride for Tyler, and every day we had that goal. For me, it was just an amazing experience because I got to ride on the front almost every day for the first 10 days, which I absolutely love — I love riding on the front. I think we developed, for Garmin and Tyler, a new respect from the peloton. We became one the teams that had a sprint champion, a strong sprinter, and we had to prove that. It put a little bit more pressure on our shoulders, but I think we responded well and Tyler got his stage win. It was a great tour for us.
VN: Speaking about something so not great, I understand your brother passed away recently. I know I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but it must be an incredibly difficult aspect to deal with.
CM: My brother passed away during the Vuelta, so I left (the race) four days shy of finishing. He lost a battle with cancer, which was quite short and intense – about six months in total – so that was a tough time for the family, and I went home to be with them. I came back and wanted to finish off the season highly motivated. It kind of motivated me, and gave me a new reality of my situation and how lucky I am to be healthy and living such an amazing lifestyle being a cyclist, doing what I love to do and traveling the world and living in Spain. That really hits home when something like that happens.
VN: Cycling is often about struggling through adversity, so there are possibly elements with what you experienced with the loss of your brother and what you will experience in your future years as a bike rider.
CM: For me, it puts pain in a new perspective. For all cyclists, it’s so temporary compared to what people with cancer have to deal with. Our pain lasts for a few hours a day – you go home, you put your feet up, have some dinner, life’s good – whereas for them, the struggle doesn’t end. If they’re lucky and they’re fortunate, they overcome the battle; for others, it can be long and drawn out and they still lose the battle. For us (cyclists), we struggle every day but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it’s like what a lot of people have to go through.
VN: Let’s talk about this season – have you got a race schedule mapped out?
CM: We have a pretty loose schedule mapped out. After this, we go to team camp in Calpe, then I’ll be heading to the Tour of Med, Algarve, Paris-Nice, and build up to the spring classics in the Ardennes. Then Dauphiné and I’ll head back (home) to the nationals.
VN: By the end of this season, what do you hope to accomplish?
CM: I hope to be at the next level, what I feel is the next step forward for me racing in Europe. And find my feet some more and hopefully get a win; this year, I think I’ll have a few chances in some of the smaller races to accomplish something. And to work my butt off for my teammates – we have some amazing riders this year, and Tyler and Dan Martin and all these kinds of guys, and some others coming up, I think it’s going to be an amazing year for us.
VN: Do you feel like you need to post a good result to maintain your position on the team, or is Jonathan Vaughters happy to see you nurture and grow since you’re a relatively young pro?
CM: That’s one thing with the Garmin-Transitions team: JV has always given time for riders to bloom and blossom, and not put a massive amount of pressure on their shoulders. With any team, you’re going to have winner and you’re going to have guys there to support the winners. Personally, I relish that role to support those guys. If I can get a win in there at some point, of course that’s going to help, but I think on this team they recognize the work you’re doing for your teammates and what you’re doing out there.
VN: Finally, do you feel like cycling is improving in Canada, particularly with the introduction of two ProTour races this year – are things on the up?
CM: Cycling in Canada is getting much better. I mean, you look at Svein (Tuft) with the silver medal (in the time trial) at the world championships and a top-10 at the Olympics. Cycling is becoming so much more of a bigger sport, and ProTour races are definitely going to help. And now the economy is starting to come around a bit in North America, you’ll really see cycling in Canada build up again and really blossom.