The only former Tour of California winner in this year's race, Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff), is back in the USA for the first time since he took home the overall title in Thousand Oaks in 2010, and he is looking to get some good results after an up and down two years spent with Team Sky.
"I'm happy to be back: since I've won I haven't done the race. I was out with illness in 2011 and last year the team didn't do it. It's nice to be back, and it's nice to be in some sunny weather for sure. It's been a long winter," Rogers told Cyclingnews.
"It's one of my favorite races of the year. I think the people really enjoy having the race here, and all the riders enjoy coming here. There's a bit of jet lag with the traveling and what not, but we got here a few days early and I'm starting to sleep properly again."
Since his last trip to the States, Rogers has battled some insidious health issues: first with a relapse of the Epstein Barr virus, an illness with which he's struggled three times, and then from repeated bouts of tonsillitis that cropped up after the London Olympic Games. The latter issue led to the decision to undergo a rather risky adult tonsillectomy last October.
As a result, his start to the season has been less than ideal, as complications from the surgery left him fighting back from anaemia. "I had a lot of complications and had a lot of blood loss from internal bleeding. But over the last few months I'm starting to get back to full health again. Over the last couple of years my health has been a real sore point for me, and it's starting to hopefully turn things around, physically. I feel like I am anyway."
Rogers is hoping that having his tonsils removed might solve the problems he's had with the Epstein Barr virus, an illness he first fought in 2001, then again in 2008 and 2010. "[The tonsils] could be the cause of my ill health for the past five years. Ever since I had them out I haven't been sick once.
"But it's a tough road back. You have three or four months out the sport and you're so far behind. When you start off already on the wrong foot at the start of the year, it's hard to progress and to catch up again. I'm slowly getting there. Hopefully for the Tour I'll be back to my usual self."
Even with the slow start to the year, Rogers is hoping to recapture some of the form that led him to the overall Bayern-Rundfahrt victory, a second place in the Critérium du Dauphiné and a third overall in Critérium International last year.
"It's not just a building block for the Tour de France," Rogers said when asked about his goals. "I'd love to do a good result here. I'm pretty confident that I'm riding well, I'm certainly not at my best, but I'm slowly getting there."
He expects the first two stages to be tough, having experienced Palomar Mountain back in 2009 and knowing that the finale in Palm Springs involves a steep ascent, but it is the San Jose time trial that is top in the mind of the three-time world champion in the discipline.
His depth of experience may well prove to be decisive, as the power-based flat section combined with a steep and rather lengthy climb at the end of the course will take perfect planning, pacing and plenty of strength to yield success. Some riders might still be mulling over whether to swapping bikes for the climb, start with a lightweight climbing bike or just hammer through on their time trial machine, but Rogers has already decided.
"We thought about it, we sat down and time-wise I divided it all up into percentages, and I think it's way more beneficial to use a time trial bike."
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