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Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) victorious on stage 16 to Luchon
Australian moulds himself into breakaway specialist
In professional cycling, adaptability can go a long way and it is a characteristic that Michael Rogers has in spades. From promising neo-pro with Mapei through to a string of roles including time trial specialist, team leader in Grand Tours, week-long success story, to his current guise as a stage hunter — Rogers has done it all.
And during stage 16 in Luchon, as the battle for the overall contenders waged behind him, Rogers picked apart the tactical weakness in Europcar’s numerical superiority, pedal-by-pedal stroke, to seal his first-ever stage win in the Tour de France.
Having formed part of the main break that built up a solid 12 minutes over the main field, Rogers survived a number of attacks on the Port de Balès to form part of a select trio that included Europcar's Thomas Voeckler and Lampre-Merida's Jose Serpa. On the breakneck descent, Rogers combined his tactical acumen and skill to slip clear and hold on for the win.
"I knew the finish from several years ago," he said during his post-stage press conference.
"I think it was 2010 and Voeckler won the stage, so I knew he was really motivated. I said to myself on the descent that I was going to take risks. I was desperate for the win and understood the opportunity that was in front of me. Europcar made some errors and I was able to pick up on them very quickly. Was it easy? Absolutely not. There's no gifts at the Tour and if you win a stage it's because you were the best."
Rogers has enjoyed a complete turn around in fortune over the last nine months. At the end of the 2013 traces of Clenbuterol showed up in his body after a stint of racing in Asia. He eventually cleared his name and avoided a longterm ban, and returned to racing at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. Since then, Rogers has enjoyed one of the best spells in his long career.
Having not won since the 2012 Bayern-Rundfahrt, his record this year stands at three Grand Tour stage wins – two coming via the Giro d'Italia. In 2014, that's three Grand Tour stages more than Mark Cavendish, two more than André Greipel, and just two wins behind the world's current best sprinter Marcel Kittel, who has won three stages at this Tour so far and two stages at the Giro d'Italia earlier this year.
When Alberto Contador crashed out with a fractured leg, Tinkoff-Saxo turned their attention to stage wins and with just under a week remaining they have two in the Russian bank and a short-term loan on the king of the mountains jersey courtesy of Rafal Majka.
Rogers places his rich recent form down to a new mentality.
"I realised that you have to be in it to win it. Previously in my career, I was always too calculated, scared of the outcome before it arrived, and I realised that if you tried your best the worst thing that can happen is that you lose. And if you lose, you've at least tried your best but you’ve at least opened the doors to so many possibilities. Those opportunities, I see them much clearer now."
Rogers' time on the sidelines, as he awaited the final ruling on his Clenbuterol case were understandably tough on the Australian. It created a time of self-reflection, so it seems, with the former three-time world time trial champion, taking his position to reassess his career.
"It was a lesson in life for me. I just accepted the person who I was. I always dreamed of wining a Grand Tour and I tried for many years but all of a sudden I realised I needed to stop trying to live someone's life. You can win stages, you can win seven-day stage races, so I attribute it to a different outlook on life and I don’t give up easily, I never have, but objectives are sometimes very hard to understand and sometimes you need a lesson in life to see the real silver lining within the cloud."