On a late evening at Tinkoff Saxo's training camp, Michael Rogers takes to the floor to address his teammates and managers. Captain on the road, captain off it, and since his move from Team Sky at the end of 2012, a pivotal part of Bjarne Riis' squad.
But despite his standing within the Russian team, it is fair to say that Rogers has had one of, if not the, most emotionally draining years of his career. Along with the ecstasy that came with two stages at the Giro d'Italia and one at the Tour de France, there was also the loss of his team leader Alberto Contador at the Tour de France and the significant battle to clear his name after a positive test for Clenbuterol at the 2013 Japan Cup.
Victories on the road this season and the quashing of the positive test count for little when Rogers addresses his teammates in Gran Canaria. His talk is about the future and how in 2015 they can deliver overall victories in the Giro, Tour and Classics.
"I really want to win the Tour with Alberto. And I think we can do it. Together and as a team," he tells Cyclingnews the morning after his team talk.
"My talk last night, well every year we get together as riders and we discuss what went well and what didn't and how we can improve. I'm the representative for the riders and work between them and the staff. I enjoy the teamwork. I know how important the strength of a team can be."
And on paper Tinkoff Saxo look as though they are one of most well-equipped squads for the 2015 season. Along with Contador is a spine that includes Rafal Majka, Peter Sagan, until further notice Roman Kreuziger, Robert Kiserlovski, Ivan Basso and Rogers himself.
Domination appears to be Oleg Tinkov's aim with the Giro and Tour double scheduled as well as Peter Sagan's ambitions in both the Classics and the Tour. The fact that they tried but ultimately failed to sign Edvald Boasson Hagen is testament to the team's desire to win on all fronts just as much as it is of Tinkov's deep pockets.
"It's hard to say if it's the strongest team in the world," muses Rogers.
"A lot of factors come into it. If the team management or the synergy between the riders isn't right then you can have a team of champions who cancel each other out. If you have champion team then you can do powerful things."
Rogers points to the example of T-Mobile, where he rode for several seasons. It was a squad crammed with talent and potential leaders in Jan Ullrich, Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Kloden, Cadel Evans and others, but the dynamics and hierarchy meant that the squad failed to deliver on its promise.
"Look at what the situation was like when I was at T-Mobile. Eventually we got it right when it changed to HTC when almost everyone on the team won a race. The core of the team could all win but it was the team management who kept it all in check."
And for Rogers, who is creeping towards the twilight of his career, wining as a team gives him a greater sense of satisfaction.
"Wining on my own or as a team, they're quite different experiences. There's something special about wining as a team. When it's as an individual, and if I'm lucky, it's once or twice a year, for me. It's a nice moment but when you win as a team you share that with everyone involved. I spend more time with these guys than my family during the year so it's hard to explain, but that sort of camaraderie is something that drives me on."
Clearing his name
At the end of 2013 and during the first part of 2014, drive and commitment was exactly what Rogers needed. His career hung by a threat after he had returned a positive test of Clenbuterol and if sanctioned his career would have probably have been over.
But Rogers rallied, called in the lawyers and set about proving his innocence and that the traces in his system were caused by contaminated meat rather than a desire to cheat.
"It was a tough. My activities during that period totally refocused. I didn't have much time to train and I had to bring it down to two or three hour sessions because I was constantly on the phone to my lawyer and constantly trying to fight my way out of the corner that I was in," Rogers says.
"Emotionally I was really up and down. At the start I was just angry, which was understandable. But I realised quickly that the anger wasn't going to help so I tried to channel that into riding my bike. It was tough, on my family more than anything. I handled it alright but it was certainly tough on my wife. I was stripped of my ability to work and all for something that wasn't my fault.
"I remember sitting down with my wife and she asked if we can't prove your innocence then what are we going to do? That was tough. Life goes on and you have to accept the rules but luckily a lot of people reached out to me who knew the story and I had a lot of help. I drew on the support a lot. The people who had knowledge on the subject knew straight away what the story was but obviously at the start and in the first few days there was a sense of humiliation because there was this outcry from people who just focused on the headline. That was hard to handle but after time I tried to focus because I had to get on with it and play the cards that I was given."
It didn't help that Rogers' own federation – Cycling Australia – had appeared to have made up their own minds on the rider's guilt. Even before a B sample couple be analysed they proclaimed that "for too long the sport of cycling has been let down at the international level by drug cheats and CA supports every measure to detect and prosecute doping offenders."
"It's hard to remove emotion because it's your life," Rogers says. "Okay it's this job but it's one that I love and one that I've done as a pro for 14 years and one that I've done since I was seven."
Rogers was cleared and with his suspension lifted he returned to racing at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April. As he strode into the main square in Liege on the eve of the race cycling's fraternity welcomed him with open arms and although Rogers himself enjoyed the moment he was secretly focusing on returning to his best form. Liege came and passed and the Australian was ushered to the Giro d'Italia as he sought to build his form ahead of the Tour de France.
"I remember that first stage well, Rogers says.
"I took a risk that I would never have taken before, attacking with 30km to go. I remember all the GC guys looking at each other and I said to myself 'Michael you'd never take this risk because you've been an idiot and you've never taken a risk before'. It was my light bulb moment and I wasn't afraid to try anymore. It was a character change that came directly from what I went through during my time out. I wasn't prepared to be frustrated anymore. I was sick of that feeling and I was trying to make that feeling subside."
A Tour stage followed, mainly as Rogers accepts, as a result of Contador crashing out of the race. It begs the question as to whether Rogers can repeat such Grand Tour feats in 2015.
"It probably involves coming out of GC and it also probably involves Alberto not being there, if I'm honest. That's right because he's the leader and next year's goal is to win the Tour and probably the Giro. We need to work towards that."
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