Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) has a lot to celebrate after winning the overall title of the fifth edition of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday. The Australian all-rounder dedicated his victory to his seven loyal teammate who supported him throughout the UCI 2.HC eight-staged event.
"It's huge; obviously riding for HTC-Columbia we're based in California and it's a race of great importance to us," began Rogers. "For our team there's only one race more important and that is the Tour de France.
"This is a huge result for us, also winning two stages, we can walk away from the 2010 Amgen Tour of California with big smiles on our faces.
"When I really think about it, I found that I got the best out of my team," he added. "The guys really stepped up. It just goes to show that when you have the leader's jersey, then the team really steps up.
"I will go back to the mountain day up to Big Bear Lake where Bernard Eisel, who is not a renowned mountain climber, did 130km on the front with Bert Grabsch. They are guys who can work all day and they usually set the sprints up, they aren't renowned mountain climbers but they did a damn good job."
The event concluded with a 134km circuit race that included four laps of a 33km course and a 1,000 foot climb up the Mulholland Highway located 10km from the finish line in Agoura Hills. Rogers consolidated his title following an unconventionally difficult final stage by warding off attacks from rival team Garmin-Transitions' US time trial national champion Dave Zabriskie and RadioShack's three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer.
Rogers successfully defended the golden jersey with a nine-second advantage over Zabriskie in second and 25 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, who placed third.
"It was a tough day for us, I don't deny that," Rogers continued. "I'm excited to be able to hold onto the golden jersey and win the Amgen Tour of California. It wasn't always a perfect situation for me, having two guys from RadioShack and two guys from Garmin.
"I had to limit my losses and first and foremost make sure Dave and Levi didn't go away from me. Having a time buffer, I was able to let Chris [Horner] and Ryder [Hesjedal] go. That made it more of a three-man race which was something that I could control a lot easier."
A map to California victory
Rogers started the event in Nevada City with a team of seven that included Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch, Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw, Lars Ytting Bak, Tejay van Garderen and Bernard Eisel. Ten-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish displayed his famed sprint with victory in stage one, taking the leader's jersey on the streets of Sacramento.
The jersey jumped from Cavendish to Cervelo's Brett Lancaster, who won the second stage from Davis to Santa Rosa. The 182.9 journey from San Francisco to Santa Cruz journey established the top three general classification places with the decisive climb on Bonny Doon Road, where Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) won a three-man sprint against late-race breakaway companions Rogers and Leipheimer to move into the overall lead.
Rogers picked up enough time bonuses by placing second in the stage five sprint in Bakersfield to move into the overall ascendancy, tied with Zabriskie on time. He furthered his race lead by four seconds when he captured additional time bonuses, placing third atop the 'queen' stage six ascent to Big Bear Lake, a grueling 217km route that boasted 14,000 feet of climbing.
Although Zabriskie was the favourite to win stage seven's 33.6km time trial in Los Angeles, Rogers added five seconds of padding to his overall lead when he placed second to teammate Tony Martin (below). He maintained his nine-second advantage through the eighth and final stage despite relentless attacks from Garmin-Transitions and RadioShack.
Asked if this was his biggest stage race win, Rogers replied: "I think so, as a stage race yes, it's the biggest win of my career. I've had great success in stage races. I've won the Tour of Germany going back five or six years and that was a big race.
"But certainly this is highlight for me riding for HTC-Columbia and there is a huge emphasis on this race. I think it would be a dream come true not only for me but for Bob Stapleton and the whole team in general."
A stepping stone towards the Tour de France
Rogers is a renowned champion with a palmares that includes three world time trial titles [2003, 2004 and 2005] and the Australian was back on the podium this year when he won the overall title at the Routa Ciclista del Sol, his first overall title since 2003.
He also placed second in the Criterium International, sixth in Tirreno-Adriatico and finished fourth at the Tour de Romandie after leading the overall classification early in the race.
"I kind of realised last year that I wasn't getting out of cycling what I really wanted to," Rogers explained. "I wasn't getting the satisfaction and I asked myself how I could improve.
"After talking to some people that have been very close to me during my career, they thought that I had to change my training and be more ambitious in the way that I go through my season.
"I really made some changes in my winter months, November onwards, and started treating every training race as a race and things are paying off."
Rogers believes that his early season results are a series of well-timed stepping stones that will lead him to his ultimate goal of placing inside the top five at the Tour de France in July.
"This is a different race than the Tour de France," said Rogers. "It's been a tough race this year and my ultimate goal is to run top five in the Tour this year and I think I made a big step and a positive step.
"I've really improved this year in a lot of areas, mostly in climbing and time trialing. You really do have to take one step at a time and one of those steps is by winning the Tour of California and the Tour of Switzerland or the Dauphiné Libèré.
"We made one step," he added. "I'm not saying that I can win the Tour de France and I don't think there are many riders who can say that they can win the Tour de France... In the meantime I made one step and I am very happy about that."