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91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004
An interview with Michael Rogers, Italy, June 22, 2004
A different approach
By mid-June last year, Australian Michael Rogers had announced his presence at the top of the sport with three stage race victories underlining his promise as one of the peloton's young talents to watch. Rogers went on to finish 42nd overall in the Tour de France, sixth overall in the young rider classification. At 1 hour 17 minutes behind winner Lance Armstrong, it was a perfectly respectable performance by the big Quick.Step-Davitamon rider, but with age comes maturity and this year Rogers has changed his approach to the Tour. His expectations have changed as well, as Cyclingnews editor Chris Henry finds out.
The change in Michael Rogers' program for 2004 is most evident in his rather quiet spring. No defense of his victories in the Tour of Belgium, Tour of Germany, or Route du Sud stage races, just steady racing and training with the Tour in view as the first major objective of the year. A top ten place at Paris-Nice in March, along with the young rider classification, did at least show that the year had started well for the twenty-four year old Rogers.
Rogers this year had time to enjoy some rest and a period of no racing between the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour, kicking back in his home in Gorla Minore, Italy, not far from Varese before heading to Liège, Belgium for the Tour start.
"Last year I went to the Tour a bit tired, I think," Rogers told Cyclingnews after the conclusion of the Dauphiné. "Halfway through I was still performing rather well, but I was tired.
"The change in build-up [for the Tour] has been good for me this year," he explained. "We've changed a lot of things. In talking with the team we decided to focus more on the Tour and do a steady preparation."
Quick.Step-Davitamon does not have one designated leader for the Tour, but alongside the Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado, Rogers is the man for the general classification this year and he's eager to see how far he can go.
"If things go well I'd certainly like to do top ten or top fifteen," he said. "I've had quite a lot to do to improve my climbing, and I've been working hard on that this year and it seems to be working. How much, we'll see at the Tour..."
Rogers admitted to some disappointment with his ride at the Dauphiné, which he too used for Tour preparation like the heavy favourites Armstrong, Hamilton and Mayo. Dehydration after the first long road stage knocked him around a bit and sapped his strength for the crucial Mont Ventoux time trial, but in the end he feels the preparation was still good for the Tour.
"I went into [the time trial] a little bit exhausted," he said, citing the early dehydration as the major culprit. "I did an okay time, but it was a couple minutes off my best. The last few kilometres are really hard and you have to save your energy. I made the big mistake of catching the guy in front of me halfway up the mountain, giving it the gas, then going into the red."
Rogers added quietly that it was in fact his first time up the mountain, by bike or by car.
"The Ventoux is long and not very forgiving," he added when asked to compare the Ventoux TT with the individual test on l'Alpe d'Huez coming in this year's Tour.
"Alpe d'Huez is a bit more smooth. Some of the hairpins can at least give you a little rest, even if it's just a few seconds, and that makes a big difference. I think that's the worst thing about Mont Ventoux... You can see where you're going."
Quick.Step-Davitamon has several objectives this year, including stage wins for sprinter Tom Boonen and all-rounder Paolo Bettini, not to mention Richard Virenque's bid for an unprecedented seventh polka dot jersey of king of the mountains.
"The first week we'll be focusing on Tom, concentrating on stage wins for him," Rogers explained. "For the general classification we'll go in with an open team and see who's performing well. Obviously Mercado [fifth overall at Dauphiné] is going well. Virenque and [Laurent] Dufaux are starting to come up well too. I think we have a competitive team in the mountains. As for who is the captain, we'll see in the second week. That's fine with me."
Rogers' team is also particularly motivated for the Tour's early stages in Belgium, home turf for riders like Boonen who will be eager to shine before the going gets vertical in the Pyrénées and the Alpes.
"For us it's fantastic," he said of the classics-style stages. "I'm quite confident Tom can win a stage. With the legs he's got it's unbelievable... It'll be a good battle with Petacchi."
Indeed, Boonen's anticipated head to head with current sprint king Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) will be an interesting test for the young Belgian. Rogers knows Petacchi will be tough to beat, but he also believes the Tour will be different than the Giro d'Italia, where Petacchi claimed nine stage wins.
"Petacchi's quick, and we saw in the Giro that even if he made a mistake he could still win," Rogers said. "At the Tour it's different. There's Cooke, O'Grady, McEwen, Tom... A dozen top guys. The second that Petacchi could make a mistake, they'll be there to take the win."
Even if covering portions of the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix parcours excites the Belgian teams, Rogers doesn't necessarily think they should be included in the Tour de France. Not because he is nervous, but because too much is at stake in a stage race like the Tour.
"I don't really think the cobbles have a place in the Tour," he insisted. "I'd hate to see a guy like Lance, Ullrich, Mayo or Hamilton puncture on the cobbles and have that affect the Tour. We're talking about margins of minutes and seconds between first and second. I'd hate to see one of the big guys' races ruined because of a mechanical on the pavé."
Speaking of the big guys, Rogers isn't afraid to weigh in on who he'd like to see take the final yellow jersey in Paris.
"I'd like to see Armstrong win six," Rogers offered. "I think he deserves it. I think it will be a good race... There are a lot of guys who want to knock him off his perch."
A big year
This being an Olympic year, most riders when asked if the Games represent a major goal respond with a resounding yes. Rogers is no exception, and he's already started to do his homework in preparation. Same goes for the world championships, which this year will be held within relatively close range in Verona, Italy.
"The Olympics are a very big objective," he affirmed. "Last year I went to Athens to see the road race and time trial courses. I like both the road race and the time trial, though I suppose I'm better known for my time trial abilities.
"The Athens course suits me," he added. "It's not flat, in fact it's quite hilly. For me to have a really good time trial I can't make the difference on flat roads. The hillier the better for me. With the World's here in Italy, it's going to be a big year, but I'll give [both] a try."
Just as he's training calmly and in relaxed fashion now before the Tour de France, Rogers knows that after the Tour he'll need to take it easy... but not too easy.
"It's good to have a bit of rest after the Tour, but you've got to keep the legs turning over too," he noted. "One big mistake I made last year was taking a week off the bike. I'll probably try to find some races this year. I'm not sure if Hamburg [the HEW Cyclassics World Cup] will be the right thing, maybe I'll do a small stage race. Training is really hard after the Tour."
"The main thing is to try to recover from the Dauphiné. The hard work is done, so it's important not to train too much and just recuperate as much as possible. Maybe I'll do a little speed work to come up for the Tour, but being a three week race, you can almost go into the first week a little underdone."
In the meantime, all thoughts are on France and Rogers is ready for his second go-round at the Tour, with bigger ambitions and what he and his team hope will be a better training plan for the Grande Boucle.