Michael Rogers, 36, returned to racing at the Dubai Tour this week, having been given the all-clear by the specialists who have been monitoring his heart defect. The Australian is still building his season around another strong Tour de France in service of Alberto Contador with his Tinkoff team, but knows time is running out on his career.
Rogers was training with his team in Gran Canaria when doctors detected some progression in his congenital bicuspid aortic valve disease. He was forced to skip the Tour Down Under while doctors arranged for some more detailed examinations, which came back with strong enough indicators that it was safe for him to resume racing.
"For now they've given me the OK," Rogers told Cyclingnews in Dubai. He was born with the condition, where the flap between the two heart chambers doesn't always keep the blood flowing in one direction. The back up means the heart has to work harder. As patients age, they can be at risk for the aorta to enlarge or even rupture, and can require surgical intervention. In Rogers', case, he says the defect has always been stable until last year.
"They saw some progression in this last year. First and foremost it's about safety more that anything else. It's the heart so you can't play around with it," Rogers said. It's why he has decided that this year would be his absolute last in the pro peloton.
"That's one thing that came out of it - the specialists that I saw said they were quite happy for me to race another year or two, but after that the risk factor obviously increases."
There is still a chance that his season could end prematurely, he said. "Ultimately there might be a decision to make, but we'll take it one step at a time."
Until then, he continues to structure his season around having his "best ever Tour".
"I've always enjoyed what I do. I still adore getting out there on the bike and racing, and being teammates. I was still training at a good level in Gran Canaria."
He is racing in Dubai with limited personal goals but in support of his teammates. Slovakian Michael Kolar finished ninth behind Marcel Kittel in the stage 1 bunch sprint.