Third place in last year’s Tour of California sparked an impressive comeback year for HTC-Columbia’s Michael Rogers and this year the three-time world time trial champion is aiming to improve on that result. Rogers missed most of the 2008 season with glandular fever but along with his performance in the Tour of California, he finished in the top ten in the Giro d’Italia. This season he’s hoping to hit top form for California and hold it until the Tour de France in July.
“They’re relatively close together,” Rogers told Cyclingnews. “I won’t go into the start of Cali with my best form so the ideal situation would be to go into it with 90 per cent of my best form and build it up as the week goes and then coast it until the Tour.”
With the full Tour of California route announced last week, Rogers remains a favourite, with an individual time trial and mix of undulating to difficult stages thrown in.
“I’ve looked at the route briefly and I’ve seen that the first two days will be a little bit harder than last year. From what I’ve seen from the rest of the route, I know it will be hard, but hopefully the weather will be a lot more favourable this year. The peloton will be in a lot better shape than they would be in February.”
“Of course California is a race I’ve always enjoyed, so it’s going to replace the Giro for me this year. The race is a big aim for our American team which everyone knows is based in California. It’s an immense one for us, perhaps only the Tour is bigger for us.”
However, if Rogers is to win the race, it’s probable that he’ll need to pass Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) who has won the last three editions of the race and has made no secret of his desire to win a fourth. “Levi was in a league of his own last year but I wasn’t too far from second so it was successful for me.”
As for a possible chink in the American’s armour, Rogers admits that while the American is a formidable opponent, the strongest rider on the road will shine through during the eight-stage event.
“The way that he rides it’s hard to tell what his weakness is. He’s obviously won the time trial and done well in the hills and it’s no secret that that’s what the race is going to come down to. You’ve got to be on top of your game and it’s going to come down to who is in the best condition.”
As part of his build up to the Tour of California and Tour de France, Rogers will compete in the Ruta Ciclista Del Sol later this month, where he’ll line up with teammate Mark Cavendish, who will be racing for the first time this year.
The sprinter has suffered a less than ideal winter, with problems with his teeth disrupting his training and forcing him out of last week’s Tour of Qatar. However Rogers believes that Cavendish will bounce back sooner, rather than later.
“I spoke to him and he’s down for the race. He’s looking forward to getting out there and racing. Obviously he’s had a few hiccups at the start of the year but he’s looking to put them behind him. I’m not really sure what his fitness level is and I’m sure with the hiccups he’s had he’s not where he wants to be, but that’s cycling and you have to work around it and find the solution.“