Michael Rogers joined Sky Procycling for 2011 off one of his best seasons to date. With six weeks off the bike he was buoyant regarding the opportunities and challenges which lay ahead having left HTC-Columbia. That was less than six months ago now, but it's a long way from his current situation.
The Australian has found himself battling glandular fever for the third time. A virus that in a small percentage of people recurs after the initial infection when the body becomes run down and the immune system compromised. It can be likened to being dragged along by a rip in the ocean – there's no use fighting it, it will eventually run its course. For a professional athlete, it's a nightmare.
"I'll just have to evaluate the way I'm training and just my general life," Rogers told Cyclingnews from his Italian base. "It's not going to be easy. I might have to race less. I might have to find away I can keep my health because first and foremost, without my health I can't do my racing."
A week ago, Rogers was set to make his return at Bayern-Rundfahrt. On the first stage he was second last, over eight minutes down on winner, teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. On day two, the 31-year-old was forced to abandon – he just wasn't right.
Speaking to the three-time world time trial champion, it's clear that he's frustrated but he's not giving up, despite elements of regret.
Not wanting to give in
2010 was a good year for Rogers on the bike. There were his wins at the Tour of California and Ruta del Sol. He had started training again with Aldo Sassi, who he'd worked with back in his Mapei days. Sassi had introduced him to his wife Alessia whose family had worked with the Italian coach for two decades. While his death left a big hole, Rogers had rediscovered "how to train properly."
Rogers felt that the Dauphine Libere and the Tour of Switzerland were within his reach in 2011. For a few years previously he had juggled the fine balance of want and ability when it came to racing and winning Grand Tours, specifically the Tour de France. His focus was clear, 2011 with Sky was going to be about the shorter stages races.
In Paris-Nice, Rogers says he "performed pretty well there considering the virus was probably already in motion." He finished 12th, despite a time trial where he was two minutes behind winner Tony Martin.
Feeling his condition was improving, Rogers was motivated for the Critérium International, where he finished 2nd overall in 2010, but as he was getting on the plane for Corsica, he started to get a high temperature and body aches. By the time he reached the hotel, he was forced into bed rest for the next five days. He didn't leave his room and he couldn't eat, he was "in a big mess."
"I recovered from that and got back on the bike and took it easy and went to the Tour of Basque Country which in hindsight was a huge, huge error,' Rogers recalled. "It's not the easiest race of the year. I finished but I knew something was definitely wrong." The virus was back.
"As a cyclist, we're all the same. You just put it down to a bad day and you try and soldier on because it's what all athletes do – you learn to deal with it when you have bad days and you feel bad. The number one rule is that you always try to finish unless you've got broken limbs or something. Obviously I just didn't pick up on some pretty fundamental signs that my body was sending me."
In 2008 when he was forced to take nearly a year out from cycling, the virus was a much more severe strain in comparison to what he is experiencing now. He has been able to train, while not at an intense level.
"I'm not really training well or resting well so I'm sort of in the middle there," Rogers explained. "We've just being trying to see if I could handle that kind of workload where it's just one day on, one day off but unfortunately so far it doesn't seem to be coming around."
With no medicinal cure, Rogers is able to find some solace in knowing that he has come back from the virus before and in good shape.
"In 2008 I picked it up in the start of the year I had three months off, got fit for the Olympics in a couple of months and finished 5th in the road race," he said. "I'm full of confidence and obviously I've got a team who would love to have me competing at my peak so they're fully supportive of me and they're looking forward to hopefully having me back as soon as possible.
"They're behind me and their first concern is for my health and results and racing come second," Rogers explained while admitting Sky is no doubt frustrated that he is sidelined. "It's fantastic to have a team with the ability to give you that freedom."
It was hoped that in leaving Bayern-Rundfahrt early, some down time would assist him to be ready for the Tour of Luxembourg. That's now out of the question and for the second time in months, Rogers is re-evaluating his racing calendar. Admitting it's far from ideal, Rogers says "that's the only card I've got to play at the moment."
"If I were to take time out now I certainly would like to salvage the season in some shape or form. But it's just too early to cross out anything or to book anything into the calendar right now. I just need to get back to being healthy and back into condition and just go from there.
"There's no real secrets, it's just time."