Australia’s Michael Rogers has claimed his first stage race overall victory since 2003, holding on to a 19 second lead at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol. Rogers’ general classification victory in the Spanish race is his first since winning France’s Route du Sud in what was a successful 2003 season from the Canberra rider.
After taking Andalucia’s lead in the penultimate time trial, Rogers lead home the first major group on the final stage to take third place – and the general classification win – behind compatriot Simon Gerrans (Team Sky) and stage winner Francisco Centoso (Carmiooro NGC). "It was a pretty tough day but the team were super and we never panicked," said Rogers.
The victory is a boost for Rogers who has been hampered for much of the past three years by injury and illness. He crashed out of the 2007 Tour de France while leading the race on the road, breaking his collarbone which brought his season to an early end. Since then Rogers was struck down by the Epstien Barr virus not once but twice, as HTC-Columbia owner Bob Stapleton revealed at Tour Down Under this year.
"I'm very happy. I worked hard this winter and changed just about everything I could training-wise, and it seems like the training changes have been working," said Rogers.
While it’s been a long time between overall stage race victories for Rogers, he’s come close on plenty of occasions. Most recently he finished third at last year’s Tour of California, and claimed top 10 finishes at the Tour Down Under, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
Since his 2003 win he’s finished in the top three at seven stage races, including California, Tour of Missouri, Sachsen Tour, Eneco Tour of Benelux, Volta a Catalunya, Regio-Tour International and Tour de Suisse.
Rogers has also enjoyed plenty of time trial success since winning the Deutschland Tour, Route du Sud and Tour de Belgium in 2003. He won the International Cycling Union (UCI) Time Trial World Championship later that year, although he wasn’t awarded the medal and jersey until 2004 after David Millar’s result was stripped following an admission to doping. That meant Rogers collected two medals in 2004 as he won the title again, a feat he repeated in 2005.
He also claimed the Australian Time Trial Championship last year before leading his Columbia-HTC squad to a team time trial victory at the 2009 Giro d’Italia.
Stapleton told Cyclingnews that while Rogers is clearly a strong rider his value to the American ProTour team goes far beyond the results he achieves. “The thing with Michael is he’s got a lot of skills he brings to the team,” said Stapleton. “His experience, his trusted leadership is super important for our young riders. He brings more than just his results and with such a young team, I think that’s really essential. He really is a full leader in the team far beyond exactly what he might win.”
Rogers will start this year’s Tour de France as the team’s main general classification rider providing he has the form, according to Stapleton. While the Tour is still five months away – and Rogers as much as anyone knows what can happen in that time – his early season form success bodes well for a strong showing in France.
“He’s got to be ready. I think that’s kind of decided as we go into the race but if he’s got top form he’ll get the support,” said Stapleton. “Decisions are based on merit, so if he’s the right guy, he’s the right guy. That’s the way sports are supposed to be.”
Rogers will also return to the Tour of California in May, where he hopes to finish two places better than last year.