Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) is relying on his prime early season form to win the fifth edition of the Amgen Tour of California set to start on Sunday, May 16 in Nevada City. The 30-year-old Australian is looking to shake up the overall classification early at stage two's hilly finish into Santa Rosa.
"I think if everything goes well, I have a really good chance to win the overall," said Rogers, who placed third in last year's event. "There are some really good guys here as well. The course is tough enough that the best rider will win. It is a balanced race and every day is really quite hard. There won't be many sprint stages at all, really.
"It would be a huge result to win here this year," he said. "I was third last year and that was a really good result for me, especially for an English speaking rider it's a big race. It's no Tour de France but there isn't one guy on the start line who doesn't want to win. It would be a huge result and is important for me."
HTC-Columbia arrived to the start of the Amgen Tour fresh off a training camp from May 8-12 in Santa Rosa, California. The camp was traditionally held in Solvang and Santa Barbara, but bringing the team north allowed the riders to catch a glimpse of some of the early stages. The eight-man team includes Rogers along with Mark Cavendish, Lars Ytting Bak, Bernhard Eisel, Tony Martin, Mark Renshaw, Bert Grabsch and Tejay Van Garderen.
"It's an important race so we've come in a little bit early," Rogers said. "It's been nice and the training is a little bit better. We've done almost a week of training and really went over stage two. It is hard, really hard, and I think it's one of the decisive stages for the general classification."
Rogers is coming off a successful early season with victory at the Vuelta a Andalucia in Spain, his first overall title since 2003. He also placed second in the Critérium International, sixth in Tirreno-Adriatico and finished fourth at the Tour de Romandie after leading the overall classification early in the race.
"My form is good," Rogers said. "I've been consistent in the stage races this year. I'm feeling very optimistic about the week coming up here and I think I can improve on last year's performance. I worked really hard this winter, a time out of racing where you can make the big changes. Big changes during the season sometimes can work but the majority of the time doesn't work. My form this spring was due to hard work that paid off."
Rogers is using the Amgen Tour's tough eight stages as a training block to gear up for a podium performance at this year's Tour de France held in July. The event's move from its traditional February slot on the calendar to May has allowed the organizers to utilize the Sierra Mountains and offer more challenging terrain.
"This is the second most important race of the year, to the Tour de France," Rogers said. "Obviously for a team based in California it is very important. I always enjoy coming to the US and racing. I race in Europe the whole year and this is something different.
"In previous years, and younger years, I tried to train just for the Tour de France and that didn't work for me," he said. "I just kept taking it easy and then all of a sudden you're in June and realize that you haven't done the work that you should have. I took the brakes off at the start of the year and raced hard. I took a nice rest after Critérium International for a week, took it easy and started training again. Hopefully I can slowly increase right up until the Tour."
There are several overall contenders competing this week that are also eyeing a podium finish at the Tour de France in six weeks time that include Amgen Tour's three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer along with his teammate and seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong racing for RadioShack. Other notable GC riders include Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
"Although they are two very different races, a lot come here to prepare for the Tour," Rogers said. "Just having the opportunity to get a result is good and there are no guys here that will hold back. The Tour is not really that far away. In my opinion, the guys who will be riding well in the Tour will be showing something here."