By Gerard Knapp
Country holds out for Evans and Gerrans as Aussies cop worst day ever in the Tour de France
Mick Rogers' crash on stage 8 of the 2007 Tour de France has fairly devastated the Australian cycling community, even if the rider himself has calmly indicated he'll be back in a few weeks. At the time of his heavy fall on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend, the T-Mobile GC man was the best-placed rider in a select group and had ridden himself into the maillot jaune virtuel, as the gap to the next significant group containing the then yellow jersey, T-Mobile's Linus Gerdemann, was almost six minutes. Rogers went into the stage trailing his team-mate by 4.03 and he'd gone clear with a strong group, including eventual stage winner Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). Rogers had a 39 second GC buffer on the Danish climber and could have afforded to let the spindly Danish mountain goat take the stage, assuming the Australian was able to hold his wheel up the final ascent of the 5.4 percent, 18-kilometre category one Montée de Tignes.
It was on the long, technical descent into Bourg-St-Maurice, where the Rogers group could see the penultimate ascent of the day looming ahead, the 15.3 kilometre climb of Montée de Hauteville, that Rogers and fellow breakaway David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) crashed on a tight left hander with 54 kilometres to go; the Caisse d'Epargne man went over the barrier into a ditch and Rogers hit the deck. Both riders seemed to have little damage and quickly got back on their bikes in pursuit of the six front runners.
Rogers actually caught the Rasmussen-led group after his accident but on the climb, he couldn't continue as the pain from his dislocated shoulder made its presence felt, and he abandoned with 35 kilometres left in the stage.
The 'virtuel' position of Rogers in stage 8 had experienced observers of Australian cycling believing it may have been the first time an Australian cyclist had ridden himself into a yellow jersey position in a tough mountain stage of the Tour for over two decades. The last time was thought to be Phil Anderson's effort in the 1981 Tour. Anderson finished that day, much to the consternation of then Tour 'patron', Bernard Hinault, and took over the golden fleece.
Rogers was perhaps unlucky, it seems, as speculation quickly emerged that an equipment problem contributed to his fall on the descent.
This morning when he woke in France, Rogers wrote, "I have a dislocated right shoulder and will be out for a few weeks at least".
Rogers' brother, bike shop proprietor Deane, was interviewed this morning on ABC Radio and said he believed there was an issue with the tyre and rim that had contributed to the fall; indeed, in the still images from the video highlights, the front wheel of Rogers' bike shows the tyre has started to peel away.
However, Mick Rogers was more circumspect: "I don't really know what happened, I was going through the corner and then found myself on the ground. On the descent I came back to the leaders but once we started climbing again I just couldn't hang onto the handlebars anymore."
Aussies worst day in the Tour?
It was a dramatic day in the Tour de France for the Australian contingent - perhaps the worst day on record - with three riders eliminated in one day of racing.
Stuart O'Grady (CSC) crashed heavily and was taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with nine broken ribs, a punctured lung and dislocated shoulder. Meanwhile, sprinter Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) found the mountains were no place for a sprinter to recover from his injuries sustained in stage 1. Although he finished the stage, his time was "Hors Delay", outside the time cut and therefore, he found himself out of the Tour.
Earlier, Brett Lancaster (Milram), Athens Olympic gold medalist and leadout man for Milram super-sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, was also forced to abandon his first Tour - even though he worked for Petacchi's six victories in the 2007 Giro d'Italia - due to injuries sustained in a crash. In fact, Lancaster became ill during the Tour de Suisse in June and was on antibiotics leading into the Tour de France. So what were six are now two: Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Simon Gerrans (Ag2R).
The Australians' progress in the 2007 Tour has been felt with interest in Australia. The CEO of Cycling Australia, Graham Fredericks, told Cyclingnews, "I felt the pain when Michael Rogers dragged himself back onto his bike to try and finish the stage. It was heart wrenching to watch him climb in to the team car.
"It might be some time before Stuart O'Grady is back to full fitness after his rotten luck. He'd already fought back from his crash in the prologue to put in such a great effort for his team but Stuey's tough and he'll overcome this setback.
"Robbie stunned us all with his stage one win after most people had written him off. His guts and determination to keep riding despite his injuries was inspirational and I'm sure he'll be back in 2008 to fight for the green jersey. Brett Lancaster also demonstrated the Aussie spirit battling through as long as he could with illness and injury.
"We sometimes forget when we witness the feats of courage of these supermen that they aren't made of steel - it just seems like it - and we hope to see them all back on their bikes again soon.
"Now it's up to Cadel and Simon to fly the flag and we wish them the best of luck."
Former ONCE and Festina professional, Stephen Hodge, who lives in Rogers' home town of Canberra, said, "I was certainly saddened by the terrible day we had in the Alps last night. We were justifiably ready to start looking for Mick to take on his announced role as one of the major figures in this year’s Tour de France, Stuart has been playing a key role so far in the Tour and would have been a major factor in any success enjoyed by the CSC team, and Robbie was in stunning form that we saw in Stage 1.
"Poor old Stuey has ended up in a serious condition following what must have been a very hard fall into a post or pole, and I hope he makes a full recovery so he can pick his kids up to play, and mark some more races with his class. I think Michael will be very sore too for a while, but he will need to get back to his best form so he can notch up a few achievements before the next Tour and get his confidence for the big goals. Robbie will be back on top before we know it."
But it wasn't all bad for the Aussies in stage 8. Hodge pointed to a great ride from Simon Gerrans. "He finished well up on the stage, and must be playing a very valuable role for his leader Christophe Moreau on Ag2r. Cadel is quietly going about his business in this Tour, and without wanting to pre-empt anything, if anyone can do something this year, it will be him."