Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) is flying off the radar, just where he likes to be, as he rides into the 2015 season.
The veteran Australian is coming off perhaps his best season ever, with two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and another, his first, at the Tour de France.
Despite that personal success, the 35-year-old said his goals for 2015 are very clear: to help teammate Alberto Contador attempt to become the first rider in nearly 20 years to win the Giro and Tour in the same season.
“The goal is to help Alberto. If anyone can do it, he can,” Rogers told VeloNews. “We’ll bring a strong squad to help Alberto. I hope to ride both the Giro and Tour, just like I did last year. That worked out pretty good.”
“Pretty good” is an understatement. This time last year, Rogers’ 15-year career was hanging in the balance. He tested positive for clenbuterol in late 2013 at the Japan Cup after racing in China as part of the now-defunct Tour of Beijing. Unlike his teammate Contador, who was issued a backdated, two-year racing ban stemming from a positive during the 2010 Tour, Rogers was cleared. He immediately returned to racing in April, starting Liège-Bastogne-Liège ahead of a start at the Giro.
“What happened made me realize never to take things for granted,” Rogers said last year after winning a Giro stage. “When I came back, I wanted to give the maximum, no regrets. In the end, it was one of my best seasons ever.”
More motivated than ever, Rogers turned that energy into training, and he delivered his biggest results of his career last year.
For 2015, Rogers will be an integral part of the Tinkoff squad as Contador aims to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to pull off the Giro-Tour double.
“We will bring a very strong team to help Alberto in both races,” said Tinkoff sport director Lars Michaelsen. “It will probably be one of Alberto’s strongest teams he’s ever had. We’re supporting him 100 percent.”
For the Giro, Contador will count on the likes of Rogers and former Giro winner Ivan Basso, who joined Tinkoff with the goal of helping Contador. The team certainly has depth in numbers. Helpers such as Jesus Hernandez, Daniele Bennati, and Matteo Tossato are expected to race the Giro. Rafal Majka, who was fifth in last year’s Giro, will likely skip the Italian grand tour and instead race the Tour to help Contador, and target the Vuelta a España as a late-season goal.
And Peter Sagan? He will have a heavy spring classics campaign and will likely race the Amgen Tour of California before lining up at the Tour. Michaelsen said he doesn’t see a conflict between Contador and Sagan during the Tour, and said the team’s strategy can support both riders’ ambitions for the Tour.
At the recent Santos Tour Down Under, Rogers was poised for a podium run, but he fell short on the decisive Willunga climb and settled on 14th overall.
“I didn’t have my best day [on Willunga]. I was a little bit disappointed. The team did a great job keeping me up there, but I was missing a few percentages on that final climb,” Rogers said. “I am relatively calm. I am still on track. I just had a bad day, so I can only look forward and move on.”
Rogers races next at the Tour of Oman later this month before returning to Europe. He said the priority is helping Contador, but didn’t discount taking more shots at personal success when the calendar or circumstances open up opportunities.
“From here, I go to Oman, then the Giro and Tour. I’ve got a busy schedule this year,” he said. “I’m still in it to win it. I love it. I still love racing.”
Rogers has already penned a deal that will keep him in a Tinkoff jersey through 2016.