While many riders of his generation have retired or are soon to do so, Australian Michael Rogers is ready to start years 15 and 16 of his professional career with the Tinkoff-Saxo team, having renewed his contract through the 2016 season.
Rogers turned professional in 2001 with Mapei-Quick Step, and made a name for himself with three back-to-back world time trial titles in Hamilton, Verona and Madrid in 2003-2005. However, he has not been able to compete in the era of Fabian Cancellara and now Tony Martin, and sees his role shifting toward the kinds of opportunistic moves which brought him three Grand Tour stage wins this year, and being a force for cohesiveness in his team.
Speaking with Cyclingnews at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, Rogers explained what else, other than the two Giro d'Italia stages and his Tour de France stage win, factored into the contract extension.
"I think the team realises the role I take in the team. I'm not paid to win races so much," Rogers explained. "I do a lot of work in the background, on and off the bike.
"I've always been a big believer in the team. Over my career I've had some unique teams, in the context of really working as a team. It isn't very common in cycling, we may have the same jersey, but riding as a team doesn't always happen. At HTC, we rode like a unit. In 2012, in Team Sky when we won the Tour, we had a very special team there. I saw the same patterns forming in this team this year."
The Tour de France started out well, but quickly turned for the worse when Alberto Contador crashed out of the race. The team had to shift its focus from the overall win to other goals. Between Rogers's own stage, and his teammate Rafal Majka's pair and polka dot jersey, it all turned out well, but Rogers still wants to help bring the team a Tour de France overall victory.
"I still want us to win the Tour. I think if Alberto stayed in the race ... I'm not going to speculate on if he'd have won, but it would have been an extremely good battle. [Vincenzo] Nibali was in superb condition, and it would have been no easy feat to recoup the time he got on the cobbled stage, but I think it would have been a good race. I know how much Alberto is hurt, personally from that, mentally. He has a lot of anger, and he already had a lot bubbling away. Maybe, life throws these challenges at you and it's how you deal with it and move on."
Rogers has had his challenges of his own to absorb and go ahead with this year, and although a positive doping test for Clenbuterol that stripped him of his Japan Cup win of 2013 was overturned, it changed his outlook considerably - for the better.
"It was a mental change more than anything," he said of his success this year. "I finally worked out who I am as a rider and my strengths. It's quite interesting, growing up as a teenager, you go at your own rhythm, and then in pro cycling you lose that kind of natural talent I suppose. You start listening to too many people, and trying to take a piece from here and a piece from there. I was forgetting my own characteristics."
Riding flat out is one of Rogers's natural strengths, but he attributes his fading prowess in the individual time trial less to physiological changes than mental ones.
"It gets harder [with age], you lose that top end. I find it hard to do on my own now. If I have someone next to me, chasing me or in front of me, I can pull that extra little bit out. In time trialing, it's a concentration thing. Before I could stay on the absolute limit for an hour, now I find can keep it for 10 to 15 minutes, but then I start going in and out. Is it still there? It could be. To tell the truth I enjoy other parts of cycling, not so much the time trials anymore."
What the future holds beyond the next two seasons is still something for the 35-year-old to consider. "I've thought a lot about it, I'm not really sure," he said of when he would retire from racing. "For now I'm really enjoying it. I enjoy being part of the team now. First and foremost, I race to win, but I enjoy being a part of the team and building that."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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