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Giro d'Italia

Rogers regains stride in time for Giro run

Michael Rogers (Columbia-Highroad) is poised to leap back into the spotlight of a grand tour for the first time since crashing out of the 2007 Tour de France. Rogers was the “virtuel maillot jaune” on the road in stage 8 before crashing on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend. That was nearly two years ago and after a bumpy road back, Rogers is returning to peak form, just in time for a run at maglia rosa.

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By Andrew Hood

Rogers was fourth at the 2009 Tour of California TT

Rogers was fourth at the 2009 Tour of California TT

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Michael Rogers (Columbia-Highroad) is poised to leap back into the spotlight of a grand tour for the first time since crashing out of the 2007 Tour de France.

Rogers was the “virtuel maillot jaune” on the road in stage 8 before crashing on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend. That was nearly two years ago and after a bumpy road back, Rogers is returning to peak form, just in time for a run at maglia rosa.

The three-time world time trial champion isn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by. Once hailed as a major tour rider, Rogers has struggled the past few years with injuries and illness.

Finally back to full health after fending off glandular fever last spring, Rogers is poised for a run at the Giro podium.

Rogers has been lurking in third place ever since stage two. He came within a whisker of the pink jersey in stage four, but he was held up by Damiano Cunego (Lampre) in the final sprint, and teammate Thomas Lovkvist snagged it instead.

Since then, Rogers has been patiently waiting until the decisive Cinque Terre time trial Tuesday, where he will start as one of the hot favorites for both the stage victory and a chance at that elusive leader’s jersey.

VeloNews caught up with Rogers on the eve of the decisive second half of the Giro. Here are excerpts from two interviews, one before the Giro started and a second just after the Dolomites.

VeloNews: You made it through the first important mountain stages in good position, how was it for you on Alpe de Suisi?

Michael Rogers: I had a pretty good ride. Basso was setting a high tempo in the final and I couldn’t quite stay with them. I rode at my own pace because I didn’t want to go into the red too much. It’s still early in the Giro and I didn’t want to spend too much. I got back to the front group with 500 meters to go, then the attacks came for the sprint and I got dropped again a little bit, but I am pretty satisfied with how it went. It’s always nice to have the legs respond in the first climbs, but it’s still a long way to go. That stage (to Pinerolo) is a real leg-buster.

VN: What are your expectations looking ahead to the Cinque Terre time trial?

MR: It’s hard, I think it’s the next decisive stage. It’s tough. I think we’ll probably see some important time differences. The first climb isn’t too bad. The second one is much harder. Everyone talks about the climbing, but the downhills will be equally as important. It’s a real bastard of a course.

VN: What kind of time gaps do you expect?

MR: It really depends. There could be some major time differences. It’s long, but it’s not your typical time trial course. Maybe the climbs will make things evened out against the real specialists.

VN: Will you ride a time trial bike?

MR: No, there’s too much climbing to have the full time trial bike. I think I’ll ride the normal road bike with some clip-ons.

VN: This Giro is your first grand tour since crashing out of the Tour in 2007, what are your emotions coming into the race?

MR: I’m really excited. I cannot remember being this excited about a race since I was young guy. I have a little bit of butterflies, but I am feeling good. I have some good form, so we’ll give a go. I went to the Tour of California and I’ve been riding better ever since. I’ve been trying to ride a little bit under the radar, because I’m also doing the Tour de France and it’s going to be a long year for me. But I am optimistic and full of energy.

VN: How difficult was it to come back from the crash?

MR: Well, the crash was the least of my worries. I had glandular fever last year and then my wife and I had twins, so there have been a few life changes. It’s all coming back together now and I’ve got nothing to lose and all to gain.

VN: When did the glandular fever hit you?

MR: It started in January last year. My first race back was this period, so it took me out four or five months. At the end of the day, all you can do is rest. I was ready to race the Tour, I was strong at the Dauphiné, but it was a decision of having a month in my legs going into the Tour. I’m not 21 anymore. I’d be good for a week, then I would be on my hands and knees. I have enough experience to know where I sit. It was a good decision, because I rode well at the Olympics and had some solid results later. I didn’t have a win, but I was always on the podium, always there.

VN: Has it been frustrating to lose some of the best years of your career?

MR: It’s something I am ready to move on from, all that sickness and set the record straight. I have a few bones to pick with some of the races and finish off what I should a few years ago.

VN: The Tour was the big goal, has that changed for you?

MR: I think it’s every rider’s dream to win, but only very few can do it. Only one person can win every year. It’s going to be hard to win for me, but it’s something that I am going to chip away at. Finishing second or third or fourth at the Tour is still a good damn result. A guy like Contador is going to be hard to beat the next four or five years, there are other positions as well. It’s not all about winning.

VN: Looking at the Tour, have you set any specific goals?

MR: I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet. I just want to get through the Giro and see how I go. Having not ridden a grand tour for two years, that feeling of how sore your legs get isn’t so fresh in my mind anymore. I might lose some enthusiasm! No, no, we’ll see how I come out of this one. I have a month in between, I won’t do any racing, just take the rest-and-training approach and ride into it there. We have so much diversity on this team. We have Tommy (Lovkvist), I’m sure Kim (Kirchen) will be back in top condition for the Tour. We can play the stage wins with Cavendish as well.

VN: How will the team balance having GC hopes with you, Kirchen and Lovkvist and Cavendish in the sprints?

MR: Well, we have guys like George (Hincapie), who has a wealth of experience. We have Constantine (Sivtsiv) for the climbing stages. Monfort, Tony Martin, guys who don’t have that big massive result, but the average of the team is damn high. Our average is very high, that’s the game we have to play.

VN: Does a mixed team help you or do you like an entire team built around you?

MR: I think it’s better. I’ve finished 10th at the Tour before, but I haven’t been able to place a top 10 year after year, so to have some diversity is a good thing. It takes a little bit of risk out of the equation for the team and not having all your eggs in one basket. Things can go bad and mistakes can happen. We try to avoid that.

VN: Looking ahead, will you race the worlds? You have three jerseys already, so another one?

MR: I reckon, yeah, they’re not too far from where I live. The road course is damn hard. The time trial is pretty flatter, but I will certainly ride them. I’d like another one. I have a bigger wall to fit them on now. I have a bit of space to fill up. We’ve freed up another wall.