Tom Meeusen hopes his new roady legs will get him to the finish line with some kicking power. Photo by Jonas Bruffaerts.

by Christine Vardaros

For the past few years, Belgian up-and-comer Tom Meeusen has spent his off-season in the dirt, taking his competition level as high as the World Championships. So far this strategy has translated into excellent form for cyclocross – last season he was the highest UCI-ranked Under-23 rider and claimed 13th overall in the elite category. But this year Meeusen opted for a different strategy, following his Team Telenet-Fidea’s racing schedule on the road.

Competing in everything from criteriums to stage races, 22 year-old Meeusen accumulated 37 race days. When asked how he felt about his change of strategy, he responded, “I hope I took a step forward by doing so much on the road. We’ll see this winter.” As for staying fresh for ’cross, Meeusen assured me that he worked closely with his personal trainer to avoid burnout.

His start to the season indicates Meeusen’s time spent on the road may have paid off. At the season opener in Steenbergcross on October 19, he scored a solid 5th, and 6th the week after at Neerpelt, despite a flat tire early in the race. These results are even more impressive when you take into consideration that this is his first full season in the Elite category – quite a jump from the Under-23’s.

“Last year I rode 25 Under-23 races and ten with the elites,” he said. “Now I do all 35 with the elites. The big difference with riding elites is that every week you have to go full gas. When I rode U-23 I could do my own tempo; when I was with a few guys, the best in the race, I can decide if I ride easy that day. But with the pros, there are so many good riders that it’s difficult to be good every race. So I will go every week as deep as I can and we’ll see what that gets me.”

With his recent jump in category, his goals are relatively modest. “For sure I want to ride a few World Cups. I’d also like to ride at a solid level the whole season – not a few weeks good and a few weeks bad. I start for sure in the GVA Trofee and Superprestige events but I think it will be difficult to go for overall rankings. Halfway through the season I will see in which classification I am the best, then I may have to make some decisions on which races to do. I am young so I cannot be everywhere.”

Tom Meesen talks post-race. Photo by Jonas Bruffaerts

For where Meeusen is in his development as a cyclist, his choice of training on the road may have been just what he needed. Road training tends to increase endurance, the one aspect of Meeusen’s game that his fellow competitors criticized. They claimed he had a tendency to run out of steam at the end of elite races, which are twenty minutes longer than Under-23 events.  Now that he has nailed that one, expect to see him finish strong and frequent the podium.

Offering advice to other young up-and-comers, Meeusen instructs, “Work on your technique. That is the most enjoyable part about cycling…and fun is very important.”

For next year’s off-season, if you want to spot Meeusen in action, look to the woods. Meeusen explains, “I am happy with what I did over the summer, but next year I will choose the mountain bike again because it’s more fun to do – it’s not so boring.”