Michael Rogers said his Giro d'Italia stage victory in Savona on stage 11 was like finding a rainbow at the end of a tunnel, following his long fight to clear his name after testing for Clenbuterol last October.
His second stage victory alone at the summit of Monte Zoncolan was even more special, giving him further redemption and a stage victory on one of the legendary climbs in Grand Tour racing and fully restoring his love for cycling.
"You always remember the beautiful moments in life, and today was one of them. I always believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I continued to work hard and believe. I think I’ve shown that in this race," he said.
"Through the period when I was under temporary suspension it was a life lesson for me. I learned that it’s what you create and what you give, not what you have physically that matters. I saw some great opportunities arise in this race, and I took advantage whereas before perhaps I wasn’t as hungry. I’m thankful for that lesson."
"Every win is beautiful, but today with the climb of the Zoncolan, you enter the history of cycling and the Giro d'Italia. These are the climbs - the Stelvio, Gavia, Zoncolan, they're the famous ones. It’s a dream for all cyclists to winning on these climbs."
Winning is still a thrill
Despite Tinkoff-Saxo protecting Rafal Majka's sixth place overall, the team also targeted the stage victory on the Zoncolan. They refused to be satisfied with Rogers' stage win and Majka's overall consistency.
"You always aim to be the best that you can, and winning for me is still a thrill," Rogers explained.
"I enjoy also the working part, being part of a team, and with the experience I have, I enjoy teaching a team that’s full of energy But at the end of the day the thrill is still winning. Form the moment you know you’re going to win to the moment you cross the finish line, that’s the pinnacle of the sport, whether it’s five kilometres (as in Savona) or five metres at the top of the (Zoncolan). That’s what I love about the sport."
Tinkoff-Saxo let Nicolas Roche go for the stage victory yet again and he got in the 19-rider break of the day. Rogers quickly joined him, giving the team two excellent options.
"In the meeting this morning Bjarne Riis said he wanted somebody in the breakaway I was the last to get into it because it parted early. Nico then did some great work and we found ourselves at the foot of the Zoncolan with a good advantage, and I managed it from there," Rogers explained.
"I didn’t know anything about time gaps, I had no info from the car because they had limited info from race radio. It was a individual time trial to the top of the Zoncolan.
"It’s actually the first time I’ve ridden up it, I didn’t know it. I tried to get everything out, ride out of the seat and so it wasn't easy for me. In the last hundred metres I knew I had it, but it wasn’t until then."
Quintana has another gear
Rogers held his press conference before Nairo Quintana sat in the same chair in the ski lodge down the other side of the Zoncolan. Rogers knows a thing or two about Grand Tours – this Giro d'Italia is the 12th he has ridden, and Grand Tour winners – he played a key role in helping Bradley Wiggins win in 2012.
He has been able to observe Nairo Quintana closely in this year's Giro d'Italia is impressed by the boyish-looking Colombian.
"To tell you the truth, after 10 days, I didn’t see him as a winner. But it just goes to show, these races are won in the last week, especially the Giro d'Italia, which is very, very hard in the final stages like today," Rogers explained.
"Those guys, the pure climbers, they just have another gear. We saw him winning the mountain time trial, and at this stage of the race, it’s about who’s got the legs and the background and the talent."
Rogers thinks Quintana can go on to become a multiple Grand Tour winner.
"I think so, yeah," he said. "He still has to go out and work every day but he has certainly shown the talent."
"How old is he? Twelve? For sure he has a huge future."