Introducing Gianni Meersman
Gianni Meersman, an explosive rider and fearsome finisher, will make his pro debut with the Discovery Channel in 2007.
Flander’s Fields? Or Alpine Pass?
Gianni Meersman was born on the 5th of December 1985. He is a typical product of the Flanders racing scene, tough and almost merciless on his bike
“I like to make my rivals suffer, nothing beats the sensation of winning a race” he says.
On reflection is this truly a Flanderian trait? One remembers when asked why he hung at the back of the group before he attacked, a young Marco Pantani answered, “so I can see the suffering as I pass my rivals”. More likely, it is the trait of a champion rather than a geographical region.
Sadly there is no cycle racing reference to Meersman’s Italian forename Gianni. It’s origin owes nothing to the great Bugno who won the Tour of Flanders in 1994, nor to any other Italian legend. “My parents were thinking about a name for me whilst they were eating in an Italian restaurant, which was called 'Gianni'.
His home village is Meulebeke, situated between Ghent and Courtrai so it was natural that he should learn to ride the paves of that region. However in the junior Classique des Alpes of 2002 he discovered he could climb well, finishing second overall.
"Gianni is a rider for all terrains, and I think he has the talent to, one day, win a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège” is the opinion of Wim Feys, his directeur sportif at Beveren 2000, the Quick-Step feeder team. Indeed, Meersman’s decision to sign with Discovery as opposed to Quickstep must have been bad news for the Belgian greetings card industry. One suspects that both Mr Bruyneel and Mr Lefévère have been sending one less card a year since it was announced.
"Explosive, cunning, determined, with a brilliant character", is how Wim Feys sums up his rider and points to a characteristic of his racing style, “In 2005 at Ariège the first stage of the Ronde de l'Isard he attacked under the Flamme Rouge, his experience on the track gives him that confidence, and it is one of his specialties”
Peter De Maere, the other directeur sportif of Beveren 2000 points out that it is not only results that give an indication of a riders talents, but also how he conducts himself during the race.
“On the penultimate day of the Ronde de l'Isard, the favourites for General Classification had dropped their team members one after the other on the final climb Meersman had a puncture, he bridged one group of riders after the other to rejoin the leading men. His hands on the centre of the handlebars, ”la pédalée souple”. Awesome”
Since riding for Beveren 2000 he was won three stages and overall of Tour de Namur (2005), a stage of Ronde de l'Isard (2005), the Circuit du Hainaut (2004) and the Ronde van l'Oise (2006)
Gianni Meersman signed with the Discovery Channel for 2007 a year ago, allowing him another year to develop before entering the lions den of pro cycling. Apart from Quickstep, the Davitamon Team were also keen to sign the him. His father Luc, a former professional rider works as a VIP driver and occasional directeur sportif for the team.
But maybe it is no surprise that Meersman chose to become an exile with the Discovery Channel. He is outgoing by nature, and is usually his colleagues translator during races, and it is no secret that he has been close to Dirk Demol, Johan Bruyneel’s right hand man for a number of years.
“In 2007, I will realise the first part of my dream, and I must thank my parents for the sacrifices they have made. My wish is that I have a beautiful career as a racing cyclist. It’s a long, hard road but I hope I am equal to it. I hope I become famous”
Gianni’s first racing bike was given to him by his grandfather as his 11th birthday present. His father, Luc, was a professional cyclist for 4 years in the mid 1980’s and rode with Freddie Maertens. His younger brother Luigi (how many Italian restaurants are there in Meulebeke?) is also a very promising young rider.
A year ago when it was announced that Gianni would be joining the Discovery Channel he said “ I am joining the best Team in the World” but as Daily Peloton’s first lady of Discovery, Cathy Mehl reported here the Discovery Channel Team is now very much a team in transition since the retirement of superstar Lance Armstrong , and a general reshuffle of the team for the future which has seen 11 riders depart at the end of 2006.
As Johan Bruyneel commented, “Gianni will definitely need time to develop as a rider but we believe he has what it takes to be successful on the Pro Tour level. We look forward to helping him develop as a rider,”
We wish him every success.
Gianni Meersman Official Site
Gianni Meersman Fan Club
Scources – Beveren2000. official site, Cyclismag.