The Canadian, who has ridden for several of the world's biggest teams, built a career as one of the most dependable domestiques in the bunch, but now, with his wife, he's starting a new chapter of his life in Girona and concentrating on his coffee empire. At the Saitama Criterium in Japan, Cyclingnews sat down with Meier to talk about his career, his domestique devotion, and his plans for the future.
Cyclingnews: Christian, you had one more year left on your contract at Orica-BikeExchange. You could have carried on in the pro-ranks but instead you decided to hang up your bike and retire. Why was that?
Christian Meier: It's true, I had another year but I spoke with the team about stopping. For me, cycling was a great part of my life but I never saw it as a final destination. I always felt that cycling was a passion and that I would do it for as long as I could and it's been a fantastic experience and allowed my wife and I to live a lifestyle that's been incredible. We saw a lot of things but at the same time coffee was also a huge passion of mine. It got to the point in cycling where I started to feel like I was doing the same races, and getting too comfortable. I l felt like I was no longer growing and that it was maybe time to change. At the same time, with coffee, everything was so new and so young and there was, or is, huge scope for me to grow and move forward. That's the next step and I'm going to keep going.
CN: When it came to stopping did you seek the advice of others or was it something you just knew needed to happen?
CM: It was really a personal thing. I had that feeling that things were stalling and even though I love cycling, and will always love cycling, and will always ride my bike, the racing aspect was starting to hold me back from moving forward with coffee. Racing and training, they take up a huge amount of time, and there's a lot of time on the road. I didn't want to sacrifice one at the expense of the other while doing both. Sure, I could have continued another year and cashed my pay cheque because it's quite a good pay check, and maybe I could fluke it for one-more year but that's not me. Okay so if I'd done that the worst that could have happened would have been the team kicking me off the roster but that's not what I wanted to do. Like I said, that's not me. I had to stop so that I could give my future plans 100 per cent commitment. That's been my philosophy since I was young.
I talked to a couple of people and looked for advice, sure. I actually talked a bit to Charly Wegelius. We rode together for his final year at UnitedHealthcare and while we were racing together he was about to retire and he was telling me about these experiences and feelings that he was having about retiring. He said he was coming to the point in his career where training was becoming harder and being away was becoming tougher and tougher. At that point I just didn't get it. I remember saying 'man you're crazy. I don't understand why you want to retire.' But I had a conversation with him at the Dauphine this year and I finally understood where he was coming from at that period. I'm now at that stage.
CN: You've been a pro rider since 2005 and ridden on both sides of the Atlantic for some of the biggest teams in the world. Have you achieved everything you wanted, ticked every box?
CM: I think so. When I came into the sport my idea was to become a domestique. That's what I wanted to be.
CN: Why was that your ambition?
CM: I don't know. I think it stems from way back and watching the Tour as a kid. I always felt more association with workers. I would watch Lance [ed Armstrong] and I just felt more connection with his teammates than with the guys who were winning. Why that is, I'm not sure, but I wanted to be one of those guys. So I guess I never came into the sport with the expectation that I needed to win this race or that race but I did ride all the races I wanted to do. I won some big races with my teammates, which was very special for me, so winning a race like Liege with Simon Gerrans, which for me was special because I did well there as an amateur and I always enjoyed it, so to win it with Gerrans was neat. Then to see the progression of the young guys on the team, like the Yates brothers, while I was here, that was also something special. I did all the Grand Tours so I felt like I've done everything. I don't feel like there's anything I will regret not doing.
CN: I spoke to Matt White, your team boss, and he said that he could put you into any race, any terrain, at any time of the year and you'd still do the job that was expected of you. Do you feel like you were a 'pro's pro' in that sense?
CM: I think that's something I enjoyed. I like doing everything. When I was young I raced track, I raced cyclo-cross, I raced no matter what sort of opportunity I was given. What I liked about Orica was they'd say ‘we need you in the leadout. Not as the last guy but from around 5 to 4km.' What was nice about that was that it pushed me. It wasn't what I was used to but you have to take those opportunities. Worst case I couldn't do it because it was hectic or I lost a wheel but in a lot of cases you're there and whereas before you might think you'd never be part of a leadout, you're actually building confidence and helping your teammates. I took a lot of satisfaction from that.
I think if I had a forte, it was that I could work in many types of conditions. I could go out there and work hard, and do what the team needed me to do. I enjoy working with all different style of riders, from GC guys to sprinters. I'll tell you, my favourite thing as a rider was going to a race and being on the front all day. Seriously. That was awesome. Riding 100 to 200K on the front, that was great. The boring days were the ones when you'd have to wait just for the final. I'd be sitting around all day. I just wanted to do a good job.
CN: And now you're moving into the world of coffee. You already have two places set up in Girona, correct?
CM: The first one opened in March 2015, that's La Fabrica and we do brunch, food and coffee. Then there's Espresso Mafia where I do all the roasting myself and there's a coffee bar on the other side. Both places are in the old town in Girona. The plan now is to have more time and to spend more time on the roasting so that I can hopefully get our coffee into the market. I'd like to get it into a few places in Barcelona. Again we're not standing still, so my wife and I are looking at another opening in around December and that's called the Service Course. Our idea is to offer all the types of services a cyclist could need when coming to Girona. We'll have high-end rentals, massage, apartments and laundry. Everything is taken care of and we'll wash the bikes and take care of you. There's also going to be boutique where we focus on custom bikes and building them from the ground up. We want to help support the little guys who are part of this incredible scene. Looking back we were the little guys, and we still are actually. When my wife and I started out on this adventure all we had was a passion for coffee. Neither of us had been in business before but we started from the ground up.
CN: One final question. Come January and riders are leaving Girona to head off to training camps, and their first races, will you miss it?
CM:I don't know. Right now, at this moment I feel like I wont. Saying that, I'm sure that there will come a point when I will. I was speaking to someone about this, I think it was Matty Wilson, and what they missed most about cycling was working in a team. I feel like I've replaced the cycling team with this new team in my life. At the moment we have nine staff members and we've built that team. Okay we're not winning bike races but we're all working together towards the same goal. It's a very similar environment to being in a racing team.
CN: Except you're the leader and not the domestique….
CM: Exactly. In my cycling life I'm a completely different person to the person I am in real life. I was happy to be domestique but in projects that my wife and I have created, we've such clear ideas of what we want to do, we've become the leaders.