Michael Rogers: Australian cycling’s forgotten man
With the local media focusing on either GreenEdge or Cadel Evans, Michael Rogers has almost become the forgotten man of Australian cycling.
But the 32-year old is set to once again thrust his name forward as one of this country’s best riders, having finally shrugged off the illness and injury that has restricted his performance over the past five years.
While no longer considered a general-classification contender in the grand tours, Rogers – who is arguably in career best form – is an integral part of the Team Sky line-up.
His performance at Dauphine was exceptional, finishing ahead of Evans and second only to his team-leader Bradley Wiggins.
Of more interest to his Australian-based fans is his time-trial form.
With the Olympic Games fast approaching, and Australia qualifying for two spots in the individual time trial, much debate has already been waged on this website about who should fill those positions.
For mine, you can’t go past Rogers, but it has been a long road and his story deserves to be told.
Recent converts to cycling will be unaware that the time trial was ‘Dodger’s’ speciality.
He first achieved fame by winning three world time-trial championships (2003 – 2005).
Soon afterwards he decided to sacrifice some of his time-trial power in a bid to improve his climbing.
He became a notable stage racer, his focus being to capture one of the grand tours.
Things looked to be on track with Rogers recording a confidence-boosting top-10 finish at the Tour in 2006.
Come 2007, all of Australia was excited by the proposition of cheering on two genuine Tour contenders in Rogers (T-Mobile) and Evans (Predictor-Lotto).
But it was not to be.
By the halfway mark of stage eight, the narrow French roads had begun to twist their way through the mountains and Rogers found himself with a group of riders who had broken away from the chasing peloton.
More than that, he had whittled down the four-minute deficit to yellow-jersey-wearing Linus Gerdemann to become virtual leader of the Tour himself.
But the bliss was to be short lived.
Moments later Rogers slid into a roadside barrier, having his wheels swept out from under him on a steep descent.
A shaky Rogers remounted his bike, but his shoulder – which had taken the brunt of the impact – was shattered.
He manfully battled on, but the TV pictures beamed back to Australia were heartbreaking.
A distraught Rogers finally dismounted his bike in tears and slumped inconsolably into the back of his team’s support vehicle.
The dream was over.
While Evans went onto to claim second place in a drug-affected final result, Rogers looked to the future.
But it was not an easy path.
Continually knocked down by illness and injury over the following two years, it wasn’t until 2009 that the frustrated Rogers was able to regain the type of conditioning in his legs that would enable him to again be competitive in major stage races.
But after struggling through the 2010 Tour de France, ‘Dodger’ shifted his focus to shorter stage races such as the Tour of California and the Vuelta a Andalucia, both of which he won.
But 2012 has seen yet another shift in priorities for Rogers.
His long neglected time-trial skills have been picked up and dusted off and the former world champion is back where he belongs – instilling fear into his fellow competitors in the race against the clock.
His recent achievements include a solid bunch of results.
He came third in the Dauphine time trial behind Wiggins and current world TT champion Tony Martin.
He was only ten seconds off the pace in the Dauphine prologue;
He finished second in the Criterium International time trial behind Evans and third overall.
He recorded two stage wins (including the time trial) and overall victory at Bayern-Runfahrt.
He came third at the Australian time-trial championships.
The versatile Aussie also recorded top-five general classification finishes at the Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie.
An organisational debacle at the national time-trial championship, which saw riders competing on only partially closed roads, may have also cost Rogers a first placing.
While he didn’t fare as badly as Jack Bobridge, who was blown from his bike by a passing truck, he did have to slow to a standstill as traffic turned in front of him.
In the end he finished just 16 seconds shy of winner Luke Durbridge and only seven seconds behind runner-up Cameron Meyer.
Run that time trial again today, on closed roads, and my money would be on Rogers.
Which brings us back to the Olympics.
On current form Rogers should be selected for one of the time-trial spots.
National time-trial champion Luke Durbridge should get the other.
The current under 23 world time-trial champion has been impressive in his debut year. and has put in some gutsy performances.
Most notably at the four day Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire, Durbridge recorded a time-trial win that rocketed him to the top of the general classification.
It was only his second visit to France, but ‘Turbo’ has proved to be a fast learner.
At Dauphine he beat Wiggins by one second to claim the opening day’s prologue and was solid in the 53-kilometre time trial on stage four, finishing seventh.
That was 1:38′ behind Wiggins and just 27 seconds behind third-placed Rogers, but five seconds ahead of the highly rated Evans.
It should be enough to see him secure him a berth for London.
For Rogers, a chance to race around the 44-kilometre Hampton Court Palace circuit would be just reward for not only a stellar season, but the years of hard work which have largely gone unrewarded.
Undoubtedly he will have a busy July, helping Wiggins negotiate his way around France. But so will many of the other Olympic time-trial hopefuls.
Cancellara, Martin and Wiggins will all have been busting a gut at the Tour, yet will be automatic picks for their national teams.
And that is exactly what Rogers should be for Australia.