Bradley Wiggins may be Garmin’s highest-profile signing for 2009, but Christian Meier may be the team’s most promising young hire. Along with Svein Tuft, Meier comes to Garmin from the Canadian Symmetrics team. But in a way, Meier was already there; the tri-lingual 23-year-old spent the last half of the 2008 season as a stagiare with Garmin.
“It was pretty cool to be going up hills in races in Italy, and look over and see Sanchez, Ballan, Cunego,” Meier said. “It was the first time I’d seen these guys outside of a magazine, you know? That feeling will probably wear off after a little while, but it was still a great experience.”
Having signed a two-year contract, Meier and his fiancée will be moving to Girona, Spain, to live alongside a number of other North American expatriates, including Columbia’s Canadian veteran Michael Barry and his family.
While racing with Euro pros may still be novel for Meier, winning bike races is not. Meier holds five national titles, won on the road, track and cyclocross circuit. He sat down with VeloNews in Boulder to talk about growing up on a farm, racing the espoirs Liège-Bastogne-Liège and how to make Europe home.
VeloNews:You’ve already had quite a diverse career, with titles in road, ’cross and track.
Christian Meier:I actually started racing downhill, at about 16, and through commuting to work I eventually got a road bike. I enjoyed how you could just ride around and see the countryside. Where I grew up in Canada, on the east coast in New Brunswick, it’s really scenic and quiet. The riding is beautiful and I just fell in love with riding around, and how road racing is more dynamic and based more on physical skill than the technical skill of mountain biking. I eventually moved out to Vancouver to ride with the Symmetrics guys. When I was young, I just rode as much bikes as I could. I raced everything: cross, mountain, road, track. In New Brunswick, a few years after I started riding they opened an outdoor velodrome. I just enjoy riding my bike, no matter what it is. It’s getting a little harder for that now, once you get to a certain level on the road you need to be a little more focused. I still get out on the track. In Vancouver there’s an indoor velodrome, so when it’s really raining in the winter you can still ride.
VN:So you can get a winter workout in without going through a whole load of laundry.
CM:Actually it’s a like a pressurized bubble. There’s really no heat or insulation in there. So some days you’ll be riding the track with all your winter clothes on.
VN:I understand you grew up on a German farm.
CM:Both my parents are German. My mom came over with her family, then my dad came over on his own to work. They met, got married and stayed there. My mom’s side of the family owns the farm. It was a farm with a butcher shop and a restaurant. Everything was grown, butchered and served there. My father worked in a mine as a machinist. So yeah, I grew up on a farm. A lot of early mornings and hard work.
VN:Do you think that helped prepare you for a career in cycling?
CM:As a young person I really developed a work ethic. And especially on my mom’s side, they were a very strict German family. There was no choice, it was just: Go do your chores.
VN:And you speak French also, right?
CM:Yes. With New Brunswick being the only officially bilingual province of Canada, you learn French in school. I switched to French immersion for the last half of my schooling. So yeah, German, French and we’re working on Spanish, my fiancée and I.
VN:Europe should be a piece of cake for you.
CM:I’ve never had the problems there. We’ve always done the U23 camps in Belgium like the American guys, and I’ve never had any problem adjusting to Europe. I don’t know if it was the languages or the European way I was raised. I really like Europe.
VN:Guys like [team physiologist Allen] Lim are big on the importance of being able to relax in Europe. With so much of cycling being recovery, Lim will tell you that it’s critical not to waste energy on psychological stress. Sometimes the language barrier alone is enough to stress people, just figuring out how to order dinner. Were you living in Belgium on your own?
CM:I was. I have an aunt and uncle who live in Belgium. As a young person, you always read that Europe is the place for cycling. My uncle is a huge sports fanatic and loves cycling. It was always like, ‘you gotta come to Belgium.’ So I signed up for some correspondence courses for the last semester of high school and I went. I didn’t know what to expect. One day just riding around I met some guys who happened to be on the Scott USA factory team. Being a junior at the time, I basically signed up with those guys, and raced the whole time I was over there with them. They took me to training camps and everything. It was really cool. I really enjoyed it.
VN:You were seventh in the espoir Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Is the pro version a race on your ’09 calendar?
CM:I find cycling such a historic sport, especially those races like Liège with all the big history. That day, it was more of a tactical thing. It was the one day where I truly felt that it was my race to lose. I still believe that I lost the race because of a tactical error. It was a bit of a sprint finish. The pro Liège finishes on a hill, the espoirs one goes right where the pros go right. And we have 5k of flat and finish in a velodrome. I basically just messed up the sprint in the velodrome. But anyway that was in some ways the best day of my career. It was such a cool feeling racing on all the historic roads and all the little climbs. We do the last half; we do Bastogne to Liège. We ride all the same climbs, La Redoute, St. Nicolas. All the names on the road. There were so many people out. I put a pretty big focus on that. I bought the DVD and watched it over and over. The day we did it, I was remembered the scenes from the movie. What a beautiful race. Those are the kind of races I’d like to have good performances in during my career.
VN:Do you have your 2009 schedule yet?
CM:I’m starting with Tour Down Under. Followed by Tour of Mediterranean, Paris-Nice, Criterium International, Amstel, Fleche, Liège. Then we go to, I think, Catalunya, Tour of Romandie, Philly Week, then we come back for Tour of Swiss and Tour of Austria. It’s a really cool schedule. I’m excited about it.
VN:And living in Girona should be pretty sweet.
CM:Yes, especially since my fiancée is making the move with me.
VN:You’ll make it home.
CM:Exactly. I was over there training with Michael Barry. I respect him a lot. He told me it’s important to make Europe your home. Which makes a lot of sense. That’s where a lot of guys really do crack. They seem to think of it as a short-term thing: “I’m only here for a few months.” A lot of the time it’s almost subconscious. You get into the mindset of not fully adapting; you don’t want to put in the energy of adapting because you’re going to leave anyway. But if you go with the mindset of, this is my home. And you make an effort to learn the language, and be part of the culture, it makes everything so much easier. So that’s what we’re going for.