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With three grand tour stage wins this season, and a contract extension with Tinkoff-Saxo through 2016, Australian Michael Rogers has enjoyed a renaissance in 2014 — a season put into jeopardy after he’d tested positive for Clenbuterol last fall.
Rogers was inactive from October 2013, when he won the Japan Cup but was found to have Clenbuterol in his system, through late April. He was ultimately cleared by the UCI, which determined that he’d eaten contaminated meat in China, where he had taken part in the Tour of Beijing before traveling to Japan.
Rogers returned to racing at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and went on to win two stages at the Giro d’Italia, both from breakaways, including one atop the monstrous Monte Zoncolan on stage 20.
He then went to the Tour de France to ride in support of Alberto Contador’s GC bid, however after the Spaniard abandoned with injury, Rogers rode into a breakaway on the stage from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, outsmarted his breakaway companions, and soloed to a third stage win of the season — the only grand tour stage wins of his 14-year professional career.
VeloNews spoke with Rogers last week during the USA Pro Challenge, where he suffered with the high altitude, yet still took a solo flyer with 32 miles to go on stage 3, only to be caught on the final climb up Monarch Mountain. He again rode into a breakaway on the final stage, from Boulder to Denver via Lookout Mountain. His teammate, Rafal Majka, winner of two mountain stages and the KOM jersey at the Tour de France, finished the race fourth overall after starting the Vail time trial in second place.
With his contract extension, Rogers, who turns 35 in December, is guaranteed to race until he’s nearly 37. At a USA Pro Challenge that was sometimes overshadowed by the farewell tour of 42-year-old Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Rogers couldn’t avoid questions about what’s left in his own career, and what still motivates him after so many years of racing.
“More so than the results, this year what really excites me is that, I think, we started to get the feeling between the riders of actual teamwork,” Rogers said. “When I say that, of course we’ve all got the same jersey on, but when you get to that point where everyone, within the team — not just in a particular race, like eight or nine riders at a tour — but I mean the whole team of 30 guys, when they all start to understand what their position is, and what their capabilities are, that’s when you are capable of special things.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have it two times in my career, first with HTC-Highroad, and we won countless races, and also with Sky, in 2012, winning the Tour [with Bradley Wiggins]. We’re starting to get that roll going on [at Tinkoff-Saxo] as well. Now the challenge is that we keep together until the end of the season, and when everyone goes home for a couple of months, we’ll have to keep that in the back of our minds, so we’re not starting from scratch in 2015.”
The 2015 Tinkoff-Saxo roster includes Rogers, Majka, and Contador, as well as new additions Peter Sagan, Ivan Basso, and Pavel Brutt; leaving the team is Nicholas Roche, who heads to Team Sky.
Asked if he’d started to think about an endpoint for his own career, Rogers answered, “Oh, certainly. I’ve thought about it many times. No, really, it’s a hard sport, and every season you do takes its toll. I found this year, obviously with the wins… for me, I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I’ve enjoyed it over the past few months more than in my whole career, and that’s not just because of the wins. I’ve always had some inner battles, to find the balance of happiness, and that doesn’t always come from the results, it comes from personal performance, as well, achieving your best. And I feel I’ve really hit that sweet spot this year.”
As far as the remainder of 2014, Rogers said he wasn’t sure what the rest of his season might look like, but said he didn’t expect that he’d be racing for Australia at the world championships.
“I’m a bit undecided, actually, what I’ll do after [Colorado],” Rogers said. “There’s the opportunity to go the Tour of Britain [September 7-14], as well as the Canadian WorldTour races [September 12-14]. Looking further down the track, there are the one-day races at the end of the season. I definitely don’t see the worlds in there, at the moment. Saying that, the earlier I stop, the earlier I have to start again, so ideally I’d like to race all the way through.”