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» 24/03/2007 - Artikel op website The Paceline

GETTING TO KNOWÖÖ GIANNI MEERSMAN

- by Cathy Mehl

* First year professional Gianni Meersman is a new addition to the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team and looks to be a rider for the future based on his past results as a Junior cyclist. The Paceline sat down with Gianni when he was at Solvang training camp to learn a little more about this young Belgian rider. Watch for him in the upcoming races in Belgium!

Cathy: Iíd like to get some background on you so we can give the fans a little more information about who you are and where you come from. I understand youíre the youngest rider on the team, right?

Gianni: Yeah, yeah, thatís right. I have one brother who is three years younger than me, he also is a cyclist but he has back problems. Hopefully this year he will be better. I come from Belgium. My father was also a professional for four years but he had problems with his knees and had to stop. I live with my family in Meulebeke, Belgium.

How did you first get interested in cycling?

Well, when I was 12 years old I got a bike from my grandfather, who was also a professional, and in the beginning it was for fun. But then I wanted to get a license so I could do races. In the beginning I was not so good! But each year I became better and better until my first year as a junior I got to compete in the World Championships in Belgium. Now itís a dream come true to be part of this team.

Coming from a racing family itís obvious your family is supportive of your career.

Yeah, yeah, some parents of young guys push their kids so much that when they are 20 they are sick of the bike. My father was smart. He said to me, ďIf you donít want to train, donít train. But if you want to train then do your best.Ē We talk a lot about cycling but not particularly about me in cycling, just cycling in general. My father does not ask me, ďHow was your training today? How many kilometers did you do?Ē Heís not like that.

Isnít that smart of him to not impose his wishes on you? As a parent myself I know that isnít always easy to keep in check.

Right, no pressure. I have a lot of fans, even a fan club, but those people leave me alone. They donít invade my privacy. They donít come to my house. Private is private.

Have you ridden for other teams?

The (Belgian) National team, but that is probably only five races in one year. And I was in the younger (development) team of Quick-Step.

So far what have been your most important results?

In 2005 I got 7th in Madrid in the Under 23 Menís Road Race for the Worlds. I think that was important. Iíve won other races as a junior, too.

How did Discovery Channel find out about you?

I know Dirk Demol. Iíve known him since I was around 13 or 14. He followed my career all the time. Maybe once a month he would call to see how I was doing. But in the last year he started calling me more. He would call me every week. But they (Discovery Channel) never asked me to come to the team. In 2005 Davitamon-Lotto and Quick Step both asked me to come see their teams and I told Dirk this and he said, ďWe want you to come to our team also.Ē Dirk gave me the confidence that I could be good. When I was young and not so good he still called me all the time. So the other guys only showed interest in me when I was finally doing good and I will always remember that.

Johan seems to have a lot of patience with his young riders and doesnít try to push them too hard before they are ready.

Now I get the chance to do the Belgian Spring Classics. If I were with the other teams I donít think I could do those big races. I think if I do my job everybody will be happy. Other teams you have to do small races and then suddenly you get called if someone gets sick. Itís hard to prepare that way. You get thrown into a big race all at once.

When Discovery Channeled called, was it Dirk or Johan?

Dirk called me. He said they wanted me to come.

What were you thinking when he called you?

At first I just felt normal about it. The first time I was with the team was in Austin at the smaller camp for the new guys. I really started to feel like I was part of the team but then it also hit me how big it is, what a big team I am now a part of. In Austin when I saw Levi or Basso for the first time I finally realized I was part of the Discovery Channel team!

Can you share your first experience with the team in Austin?

It was a big difference from Solvang camp. It was like having fun, every night going out for dinner. Weíd ride maybe three or four hours on the bike, easy rides, fun rides. But Solvang camp was serious. Also in Austin it was flat, but in Solvang there were hills and everyone had to take a turn at the front for like 30 minutes. Real training.

When you first met some of the team in Austin did you feel welcome?

Oh yeah, really welcome.


DC Young Guns in Austin - John Devine and Gianni

Had you met Lance before?

Well, the first time he won the Tour de France I went there with my parents. We went to see Dirk at the hotel in the evening and Lance was there also. I still have a picture from the week before he won his first Tour. I think I was eleven years old, standing next to Lance. And now Iím on his team!

Does he know about that?

No, no...

Well maybe heíll read this and now heíll know! By now youíve met all of your teammates. What has this bigger camp experience been like?

Now you see that everything is serious. The training is serious. After the ride everyone is serious, not running through the halls. Weíre just lying on our beds to rest after massage. But that is the job of the cyclist: to rest and recover.

What type of rider are you?

Well itís hard to say. When you are under 23 you have to time trial good, sprint good, do the hills and flats good. I think maybe hills of 2-3 km I will be good at. Liege-Bastone-Liege would be a good race for me. But itís difficult to say right now what kind of rider I will end up being.

So youíre still fine-tuning what kind of racer you will be?

Yes, as a first year professional you are always asking yourself, ďWhat will I be good at?Ē Hopefully I will be good at the climbs.

What do you think are your best qualities, either as a person or a cyclist?

If I want something I go for it. Other people can say itís not good but I still go for it. And I only trust the people who want good for me. Everyone can tell you to do it that way or that way. I say "OK" to them but in the end I do it the way the people that care about me say to do it. I trust those people.

Getting advice from Dirk in Solvang Do you seek advice from your dad?

When I was younger I did but not so much now. Dirk helps me a lot now. I listen to him.

What are a few races on your program this year?

I will be racing a lot in Belgium, like GP Waregen, E-3, Gent-Wevelgen and also the Tour de Georgia.

Great, it will be fun to see you racing in America. Have you ever raced here?

No, no.

Youíll be a very popular rider at Georgia. Itís a great race with good climbing near the end. How about your goals for this year? What do you want to accomplish in 2007?

To become much stronger. Levi told me that the first year is very difficult but that after the first year the muscles are much stronger. You get used to the rhythm. I know itís going to be kind of hard, but I am ready. I know I canít expect to be really good right from the start.

What about long-term goals for your cycling career?

I hope in 2-4 years that I am really good on a Belgian level and good at 5-7 day stage races.

So I heard a little story about a jacket you bought in Austin. I understand you are very much into clothing. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah, I saw a really special jacket that the material looked like newspaper print and I said to myself, ďNobody in Belgium is going to have a jacket like that!Ē So I bought it and when I went home and showed it to my girlfriend she said, ďOh no! Youíre not going to wear that jacket!Ē So when Iím not around her I wear that jacket!

- Many thanks to Gianni and best wishes to him for a successful season and a solid cycling career!

 
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