Cameron Meyer is easy to like and hard to hate.
In fact, he's hard to dislike even just a little. Courteous to all; exceptionally diligent with an incredible work ethic; clearly talented but never big-notes himself or his team; and yes, rides for Orica-GreenEDGE but seems to go out of his way to make sure he's not perceived to be 'one of the boys'.
And now, with his team missing out on signing Richie Porte, who has chosen to stay at Sky Procycling Ã¢â¬â "We would have liked Richie to come onboard," team owner Gerry Ryan told the Sydney Morning Herald last month Ã¢â¬â it seems the 25-year-old has the weight of the country's expectations on his skinny shoulders.
Whether he likes it or not, the team Ã¢â¬â whether they admit it or not Ã¢â¬â is placing their hopes on the West Australian being their man most likely to reach Grand Tour greatness in the next three to five years. With Porte at Sky, Cadel Evans at BMC, Michael Rogers at Saxo-Tinkoff, and Rohan Dennis at Garmin-Sharp, for 2014 at least Ã¢â¬â and probably 2015 and 2016, too Ã¢â¬â GreenEdge has no other choice but to bank on Cam's rise and rise as a Grand Tour podium finisher in-waiting.
But is he even a Grand Tour rider?
In his fifth year as a professional (though due to previous track/Olympic ambitions, really his second full-time season on the road), Meyer is still yet to take part in the Tour de France. That said, he embarked on his first three-week tour in 2009 (at the Giro d'Italia, where he rode the first fortnight), so he's far from green.
So far he's performed well across week-long races; he won the Tour of Tasmania (aged 19) and the Tour Down Under in 2011, and finished in the top ten at last year's Tirreno-Adriatico.
This year, there's been a notable step up, with three top-ten GC placings and all in the space of two months: Tour of Turkey (6th overall), California (5th) and, last Sunday at the Tour de Suisse, after leading the race for two days, he scraped into tenth overall by the skin of his chinny chin chin.
Whether he needed to do better is up for debate, but I'm certain Meyer wanted to do a little better in Cali and Switzerland.
He was on track for the podium in the former but on the second-to-last stage that finished atop Mount Diablo, he lost 36 seconds to overall winner Tejay van Garderen, allowing Janier Acevedo and Mathias Frank to overtake him on GC. On the three most important mountain stages at the Tour de Suisse Ã¢â¬â probably his biggest test to date as a potential Grand Tourer Ã¢â¬â he conceded over two minutes to defending champ Rui Costa, before losing nearly two more in the final mountain time trial; eventually finishing 3'57" behind the Spaniard who, after nine days in the saddle, scored back-to-back victories.
Unfortunately, I only get press releases from Orica-GreenEDGE before a race starts, or when they win.
Yes, I could've called Meyer up, but I already know what he's thinking. He thinking he's still unsure as to whether he is indeed a Grand Tour rider.
"I think I need to prove it to myself before I can prove it to the public first," he told me in an interview for VeloNews in October 2011, where, after three seasons, he was riding his last race for Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters at the Herald Sun Tour. (For what it's worth, Vaughters wanted to keep him and offered him a better contract; Meyer, obviously, chose GreenEDGE.)
"I need to go into races like the Tour of Romandie, Paris-Nice (and the) Tour of Suisse and do well on the general classification before I can look towards Grand Tours. I'd like to see where I can go in those one-week tours, and see whether I can develop into a general classification rider. That's ultimately where my capabilities lie, with the time trialing and being able to climbÃ¢â¬¦
"You see guys like Cadel Evans, who's the best at the world at itÃ¢â¬¦ they're putting out their maximum performances at the end of two-hundred kilometres, on the last fifteen kilometres of Alpe d'Huez or something. It's a lot different to where I've come from on the track, where it's really short, intense efforts. I can go for short periods of time, but I've now got to increase that over a hill that could be forty minutes long, and I think that's what I've got to work (on)."
While he's made steady progress, quite clearly, it's an area Cameron still needs to work on. And keep working on. Which is why OGE should let him ride this year's Tour, if only to see where's he's at.
With ten riders out of contract at the end of this year, Ryan is keen to change the focus of the team to one less Classics/stage wins oriented. "We have a prospect list. What we want to do is look at the structure and the type of riders (the team wants)," he told the Herald in May. "We need to find a couple of climbers. (As for) general classification riders, hopefully we already have a couple that are developing into GC riders."
But right now, sans a bona fide contender who can contend for the Grand Tours till 2016 at the earliest, how do you go about prosecuting such an objective?
Elementary, my dear Watson: stop being so parochial, and recruit a non-Aussie Grand Tour contender.
Other teams have done so Ã¢â¬â just look at Porte and Sky. Why can't OGE?