25 year-old Australian Michael Rogers became the first cyclist in history to achieve a hat trick in the time trial of the World Championships when he powered home for victory in Madrid's Casa de Campo on Thursday afternoon. Rogers' time of 53:34.49sec was a clear 23 seconds faster than second placed home-town hero Jose Ivan Gutierrez Palacios, with Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara claiming third on the 44 kilometre course.
"To be in the history books of anything is fantastic," said Rogers. "I just love cycling, I've done it since I was seven years-old and although I've had a few hard patches this really makes up for it. Perhaps this was the hardest one for me, but I am really, really happy to be the first person to be able to do it. There was a lot of pressure coming into the World Championships for me and that makes it all the better to win it and now I'll look to next year and number four."
Rogers thanked every member of the Australian support staff for their help and deferred his celebration to sit down with the U23 Australian riders at the team hotel to have a chat and spend some time with the young riders who are coming through the same development program that he did. There were also tears and cheers in the Australian camp as Rogers crossed the line and his victory gave the Aussies a much needed boost in the wake of the tragic death of Amy Gillett in a training accident in Germany in July.
"I hope so, I hope this lifts Australia," said Rogers. "It's a great sport and Australia's really getting behind it now, and I hope this is the start of things to come."
As the defending champion Rogers was the last rider off the start ramp and he rode the course to perfection. He was fifth at the first of four time checkpoints and second at the halfway mark. By the third check he was leading and in the final quarter he blew past last year's silver medallist, Michael Rich of Germany, and steamed home with vocal encouragement from Cycling Australia's professional rider liaison Neil Stephens, who was following in the team car.
"It was really funny because 'Stevo' was screaming in my ear piece in the final kilometres and then on the tricky final corner he suddenly went all serious and calm advising me not to overcook it," said Rogers. "Then it was back to screaming as I headed for the line.
"It was a very technical course and I spent some time on the day the course was open for training to find out where I could maximise my time advantage," said Rogers who had focussed on the trickier sections of the course on Tuesday to ensure there were no surprises on race day.
Rogers was bolstered not only by the cheering Australian contingent but also by the dozen or so members of his Italian based fan club who had travelled to Madrid to support their hero. Chanting his name and displaying kangaroo adorned t-shirts the group were vocal throughout his ride and provided an emotional welcome when they broke into song as he emerged from the official protocols. Amongst the supporters was his Italian fiancee Alessia and his future father-in-law. The wedding is planned for late October in Italy.
2003 Australian champion, Ben Day, also performed well to finish 13th in the world class field after a patchy preparation. "My preparation wasn't ideal but I'm pretty happy with the outcome," said Day. "The start of the second lap I maybe lost it because I went out too hard in the first lap but I brought it home quite strongly so I can't complain."
Also see: Mick Rogers interview - Aiming for number three