Three-time World Champion Michael Rogers will return to Australia next Tuesday to contest the Scody Australian Open Road Championships being held in Ballarat from the January 9-13. Rogers last raced the event in 2003, when he was the silver medallist behind Queensland's Ben Day in the time trial and eighth in the road race won by Stuart O'Grady.
This time, his preparation has been in a northern Italian winter where the mercury has struggled to stay above zero degrees Celsius, but he says he's looking forward to challenging for the coveted green and gold jersey of Australian Champion.
"Not having raced since September 2007, I can only go on training performance which I'm confident is at a good level," said Rogers from his Italian home. "I haven't been able to ride the Nationals in the past few years due to team commitments, so I'm very excited to have the chance to be able compete for the green and gold jersey.
"I'm sure it will be a hotly contested race as the reward means a lot in modern day cycling," the Team High Road rider added. "Mind you, coming from the European winter I hope the weather isn't as hot as the competition."
Indeed, the 2008 Championships have attracted the stars of Australian cycling. The men's road race will feature the likes of Graeme Brown, Allan Davis, Simon Gerrans, Matt Goss, Adam Hansen, Matt Hayman, Trent Lowe, Stuart O'Grady, Luke Roberts, Henk Vogels, Will Walker and Matt Wilson, not to mention defending champion Darren Lapthorne.
No time trial for the three-time champ
Rogers, whose meticulous preparation and talent saw him win the time trial at the World Championships for three years straight from 2003 to 2005, won't contest his pet event in Ballarat, focusing instead on Sunday's elite men's road race. "After the 2007 season I stayed in Europe for the whole time, which meant preparing for 2008 in the cold European winter," he explained. "That wasn't a completely new experience for me but it presented challenges in terms of trying to do time trial-based work."
Moreover, Rogers has an even bigger goal in mind for 2008. "I will concentrate all of my energy on the time trial event in Beijing, because after being fourth in Athens I'm very motivated to get the one prize that I'm missing," he said, hoping to gain selection in both the time trial and road race for the Beijing Olympic Games.
The Olympics will be raced two weeks after the Tour de France, with the men's road race on August 9 and the time trial four days later. "The two events being so close together is actually quite an advantage," said Rogers. "Hopefully I can perform very well at the Tour de France, have a little rest and then put the final touches on preparation for the Olympic Games time trial."
Rogers also hopes that starting his 2008 season in Ballarat will prove to be a good omen, as the last time he raced there in 2003 marked the start of his most successful season so far. That year, apart from being crowned World Champion, he also claimed overall victory in the Tours of Belgium and Germany and the French Route de Sud.
But, "first and foremost, the aim for 2008 is no more big crashes," said Rogers, who last year crashed out of the Tour de France during stage eight, at a time when he was the virtual race leader on the road. The accident dislocated his right shoulder. "I had enough bad luck last year to last me for a long while but, on the other hand, not completing what I set out to achieve in 2007 has made me very hungry for success this year."
While 2007 might have presented challenges on the bike, the Canberra professional was celebrating away from cycling in September when his Italian wife Alessia gave birth to twin girls, Sofia and Matilde. "Having twins certainly changes your life and your whole outlook on life and what you do in your day to day activities," he added. "Sometimes I feel I need 25 hours in the day to finish all my various commitments! But I definitely prefer my life right now than before they arrived and I feel more happy and complete."