Mechanicals sap Rogers' chances in Australian road race

Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) revealed that the Australian Road Cycling Championships that finished on Sunday were more about putting himself through a spell of hard racing to prepare for the Tour Down Under rather than with medal winning intent.

"Certainly. There is an opportunity there to win a stage at the Tour Down Under. This has been kind of a building block," he told Cyclingnews.

It seems so if you think back to last Wednesday and the last laps of the 44km men’s elite criterium in Ballarat when Rogers unleashed a surprising yet blistering chase of race leaders Ben Hill (Charter Mason Racing) and Paul van der Ploeg (Avanti).

Not that there was anything wrong with the move, nor that it was short for excitement. It was a cracking chase that succeeded and for a short time after Rogers and Travis Meyer (Drapac) – who jumped across to Rogers soon after he went – joined the two breakaway riders, the lead group of four threatened to make the race theirs to win.

Rogers was certainly keen to milk the opportunity, as he said when left lamenting how his chances were limited when the battery to his electronic gearing failed.

Asked why he was racing so hard when he had the time trial national title that he last won in 2012 and might normally have been better off resting for that, Rogers just smiled and said, "I am a real racer. I saw a good opportunity open there. To tell you the truth I only had one gear because my battery failed. I had one gear for half the race [a 53x 14]. I tell you what … had I had of had gears it would have been close.

"I don’t think they would have got me back but … that’s cycling isn’t it?"

It says something that Rogers still finished eighth in the 40.9km time trial at Buninyong the next day in a race that saw the first seven places go to a top tier line-up of time triallists that was made up of the winner Richie Porte (Sky), Rohan Dennis (BMC), Jack Bobridge (Budget), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Campbell Flakemore (BMC), and Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE) respectively.

Three days later Rogers raced the 183.6km men’s elite road race title at Buninyong, however with limited intent – other than to keen an open mind to any opportunity.

Asked at the start what his expectations for the event were, Rogers, the winner last year of stages 11 and 20 in the Giro d’Italia and stage 16 in the Tour de France, said he was "more curious than anything … to be honest I haven’t got huge ambitions. I’ve had a relatively slow start … but good things happen sometimes."

Reminded that a sage rider can still win races, Rogers laughed and said, "Yeah, that’s right … There might be a few opportunities out there and I may take advantage of them. But I think my goals are further down … from May onwards. I’ve learned the hard way that for me it’s difficult to be in condition from January to the end of July."

Eventually, the Australian road title race failed to deliver the opportunity that Rogers spoke of. If anything, there was misfortune, as a broken chain in the last of eighteen 10.2km circuits scuppered his chance of a top finish and he had to settle for 44th place.

However, Cadel Evans later said he noted that Rogers was looking good while riding within the peloton and said he expects him to be ready come the Tour Down Under.

"I am guessing Michael Rogers will be on the rise," Evans said after placing 11th. 

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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.

An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.