The comet of reporters careened into the Sky bus. Per usual.
Where was Chris Froome? The defending Tour champ was supposed to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and he wasn’t to be seen anywhere … chest infection, out of the race.
Where, where, where?
Then, Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) rolled on by in the calm and clean Belgian morning, nearly unnoticed. He was making his return to racing off a provisional ban after he tested positive for clenbuterol in China, at the 2013 Tour of Beijing.
That could have been curtains for the three-time world time trial champ.
“It certainly entered my mind that it could be the end. Very early on, when the news first came out, I was very angry,” Rogers recently told VeloNews. “I’m thankful for the light-bulb moment really, which allowed me to work and resolve the issue, but it wasn’t easy. In the long run, I think there was a very good understanding from the start about what had happened, and I’m sure the UCI and WADA agreed when there was more information.”
Ultimately, the UCI tossed out the test. Rogers returned to racing and, from that moment on, reworked the sort of rider he was. For years, he was a man intent on high general classification placing, and with good reason, too. He’d won the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California.
He gave up on that in 2014, and started riding aggressively, and for stages. He won two at the Giro d’Italia — one of which came on the slopes on the feared and fabled Zoncolan — and then he got one at the Tour de France, his first win at the big dance in 10 years. That day, he attacked the remains of the break at the end of a long stage in the Pyrenees, and soloed to victory in Bagnères-de-Luchon. A season that began in complete doubt ended as, perhaps, his most successful on record.
“It was more than I expected. Truthfully, I was just happy to be back in the peloton after a pretty rough winter with the clenbuterol case. But also saying that, I learned a huge life lesson from that case. I realized that sometimes we take for granted what we have as cyclists and that we live fantastic lives. We get to travel around the world; we’re given all these bikes and gear and clothing, and I think I fell back in love of the basics of it, which is winning bike races, and that was something I had lost my hunger for,” Rogers said.
For the Aussie, it was a mental progression, the three big results of the season.
“They were very different really. Winning the first stage at the Giro was like, ‘Okay, I’m back.’ And that was really satisfying. The second stage was beautiful because it was on one of the historic climbs of the Giro,” he said. “The Tour for me, was more of a checking of the box of the Tour de France dream. There isn’t one kid out there who gets on his bike without thinking about winning at the Tour and that was me, so for me it was just like, ‘I finally did it.’”
A look at Rogers’ career would leave most riders happy if it belonged to them. But had Rogers walked away right there after the clenbuterol case, he would have left with more in the tank. In 2014, he changed the way he was racing, and it panned out.
“I’ve got a bit of an ongoing battle of trying to get the best out of myself — on the physical side I mean. I still feel that I can still improve in some areas, and I tried a bit of that this year. I took a bit of a backseat; in the sense of I let my GC ambitions go and started to concentrate on stage wins. I really enjoy just getting back into breaks, which is something I haven’t done in a long time,” he said. “Obviously with the exit of Alberto Contador from the Tour, I was given some freedom, which wouldn’t have been the case if Alberto were there. But I really enjoyed getting back to winning. That’s what got me into this sport, so being able to be a part of that is fantastic.
As far as next season, he’ll look to the Giro and Tour again. Contador has said he’s targeting the Giro-Tour double, meaning double duty for Rogers, too. There’s a chance for a stage win, which he’ll look for with more experience than ever.
“I still enjoy seeing how far I can ride. Probably winning races, I also enjoy being a part of the team. I know I can’t win certain races, so I enjoy making sure that someone like Alberto is there and ready to be tested in that moment,” Rogers said. “I still get a big buzz out of going over big mountains or racing on the Champs-Élyseés and doing the best I can at other big races.”