The Australian men's team pursuit squad defended its title at the UCI Track World Championships in Hong Kong, but the crushing defeat they handed to their rivals was only part of the story. Although Cameron Meyer claimed his seventh rainbow jersey, it's his first in the team pursuit since 2010 and part of his reinvention ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Meyer opted to turn his focus from track to road in 2012 after the UCI shifted the Olympic programme, citing a lack of passion for the team pursuit. But after four gruelling seasons in the WorldTour with Orica, he abruptly left his 2016 Dimension Data team and retired.
However, Meyer quickly came back to cycling four months later, after the Rio Olympics, with a focus on the track.
Although he raced the Madison and Points Race in the Glasgow World Cup, the Hong Kong team pursuit was his first in international competition since 2010.
"It's been a long time between drinks I guess you could say," Meyer said. "The feeling is still the same. It's unbelievable to win a world title and I couldn't have started the championships any better and I'm ecstatic for the rest of the guys."
Meyer will line up again in the Points Race on Friday and in the Madison on Sunday, where he will be one of the favourites thanks to his multiple world titles in the disciplines.
"I'm in a different space to even back when I was winning world titles six or seven years ago, I'm confident in my legs and tonight gave me more confidence that I can compete for world titles still," Meyer said.
"I know I will go in as one of the favourites for the points race (on Friday) and Madison (on Sunday). I'm not scared of it, I've been there before and I know I can do it again."
Six-man effort decimates the competition
Meyer's inclusion in the team pursuit was part of a remarkable six-man effort that included only one of the team's Olympic silver medal-winning squad: Sam Welsford. Cameron Meyer, Kelland O'Brien, Alexander Porter, Rohan Wight and Nicholas Yallouris all took turns in the three rounds. Only Welsford and Porter raced all three, with Meyer racing qualifying and finals, Wight taking on round 1, Yallouris only racing the final and O'Brien tackling the first two rounds.
Although New Zealand came within a quarter second of them in the second race, the Australians were several seconds ahead of the next best team in the finals and qualifying. The result bodes well for the team's aim of recapturing the Olympic gold from Great Britain. Their quickest time, 3:50.577, was just 0.312 seconds off the world record.
"I think we got everything we wanted out of it, three really consistent, solid rides, and we used six riders," Meyer said. "So the experience we got, some might have only done one round, but they did it at world class times and under enormous pressure.
"The ultimate goal we kept talking about was the win, we wanted the world title first and if the record comes that's a bonus. To ride a 51 and win the world title is what we wanted to do."
Welsford, the only returning Olympian, was also impressed with the rides the team pulled off.
"It feels pretty incredible, to go back to back is insane and we executed the plan perfectly, we all did our jobs and it worked out perfectly," Welsford said. "We were bloody close to that world record, and we executed good rides in all three rides and we're very excited to take the bands again."
"It's great signs (for Australia), we have such depth in our training squad, there are two possibly who are not even here who are away on road priorities [Callum and Miles Scotson], so over the next couple of years you'll see faster times from us."
Sydney's Nick Yallouris, 23, was one of the first time winners of the world title, and said he was ecstatic.
"Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now, massive thanks to the guys and Tim Decker especially for believing in my ability and trusting I would deliver in the final," Yallouris said. "I'd by lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but the past six months I've put in a lot of work and had to back myself and the team's ability and trust the process, and we did it."