Michael Rogers' selection for Australia for the UCI World Championships raised more than a few eyebrows, given his race days had been few and far between in recent months however, his inspired performance on Sunday showed his end of season form may just be a new beginning.
Four months off the bike, waiting for your body to heal itself when there is no medicinal cure must have seemed like a lifetime, but it was a time and space that Rogers knew all too well as the 31-year-old battled a third bout of glandular fever earlier this season. By late August, he was ready to return to racing at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, followed by the GP Plouay – it wasn't a lot to go on but with the Tour of Britain under his belt, Rogers found himself lining up for his 11th world titles.
Speaking to Cyclingnews the morning after the Australians delivered Matt Goss to a silver medal behind Mark Cavendish, Rogers mulled over whether he had been surprised at his own performance in Copenhagen.
"No, not really," he answered after about five seconds of thought. "That's where I come out and do my best in the long races... I think that with so many years of doing this stuff, I know it's in there, it just had to come out for this race, that's all."
Remarkably, though it had always been a small beacon of hope, a place in the line-up that proved a nightmare for Australian selectors to define was something that Rogers had only been able to fully commit to until after Plouay, he explained.
"It wasn't the best year in my career – these things happen and you can't always have your best year but I got the most out of it that I could," he said. "I did the training that I knew worked for me and put myself into the right condition for the role that I played here."
The Australians rode a textbook race. There had been a lot of talk of alternate options if Goss wasn't dialled in but as the 266 kilometres unfolded, it looked a fait accompli as the team sat just shy of the front while Great Britain and Germany did the majority of the work. As the race started to really blow apart with around 60 kilometres to go, Rogers was there to do what had been asked of him, following the attack of Switzerland's Michael Albasini.
"With three laps to go we went away with Albasini, [Thomas] Lövkvist and a few of the other guys and I was there and then obviously [my job was] to get the guys into position for the sprint," he explained. "I was pretty happy that I fulfilled that.
"We came over the top of the Great Britain train, I think it was roughly at about three kilometres to go and we're really happy with the result. As a team we didn't miss a beat and the guys did a perfect lead out and Matt was just beaten by a better bike rider, that's all it is."
Finger pointing and the blame game
Mark Renshaw: in peak fitness, in winning form and relegated to watching the race from his couch in Monaco.
Michael Rogers: in questionable race form, less race days than Heinrich Haussler and catapulted into the Australian line up.
Polar opposites as riders, yet as the debate raged on online forums and within the media it was Michael Rogers who seemed to have been dubbed the bad guy along with the Australian selection panel of Matt White, Rik Fulcher, Brian Stephens, and Kevin Tabotta.
For White, Rogers had to be a part of the team of nine once he completed Plouay – a decision that basically came down to experience.
"Mick's the consummate professional and credit to him – not many guys could come off three months of not racing and then come back at that level straight away," the Australian Men's Road Coordinator told Cyclingnews. "His value in experience and under pressure goes a long way in a group of nine. When it comes down to that nitty gritty in the final, I've got to have faith that a Stuey O'Grady, a Mick Rogers or Mat Hayman will make the right call because I can't make it any more."
Rogers meanwhile, wasn't paying any attention to his detractors and just went about his day for the team.
"A lot of people out there just look at the team but Mark Renshaw and I have two completely different jobs," the three-time world time trial champion explained. "My job wasn't to win the race; my finish line was four kilometres to go. Mark Renshaw's job was at 200 metres to go – we're two completely different positions, like in football comparing the fullback to the forwards in rugby league. I don't expect people to understand that. That's something that you'd understand, the riders and the selectors to understand, but I don't expect the general public to understand and that's fine.
"Mark is the best in the world at what he does," Rogers continued. "The team did a perfect job. Who knows if Mark had of been here if we would have won? I don't think so because Mark Cavendish was just faster, he could have had 10 lead out guys. If the sprint is better, that's the way it is.
"Ifs, buts, could haves and maybes don't really count in our sport."
Goss' silver medal was yet another revelation in what has been a phenomenal rise for the 24-year-old, yet the question was still being asked post-race what the result would have been if Renshaw, arguably the world's best lead-out man, was in the Australian line up. Rogers was not going to waste any time on hypotheticals.
"You run second and that's great but you also run so close to winning the world championships so of course there's always a little bit of frustration but I'm definitely proud of him [Goss] and the way that the whole team rode," he said. "It's not as if he was beaten by a second-class bike rider."
Late season surge
Given most of his debut season with Sky went out the window with illness and buoyed by his performance in Copenhagen, Rogers is now eying what little remains of the race calendar and will next line up at the Circuit Franco-Belge starting Thursday before taking on the final five one-day races in Italy.
"I've probably got my eye on Lombardia, Giro del Piemonte – things like that," he enthused. "Like I said, I'm quite happy with the way things are going. I took four months out so I have to take one step at a time but after yesterday I've got to be happy that I was still competitive in the last three laps."