The 2013 season for Michael Rogers began in southern France at the Tour Méditerranéen on a freezing cold February day when everyone wore long sleeves and tights. On the opening stage, in a 150-rider field sprint won by German stud André Greipel he crossed the line in 78th place. Almost nine months and 75 races later, Rogers’ season ended in central Japan at the Japan Cup Road Race on a miserable day of incessant rain when rain jackets were de rigueur. He crossed the line in first place, 44 seconds ahead of a four-man chase group. It was only victory of the year.
If it hadn’t have been for an early-September crash in Belgium that kept him inactive for four weeks, Rogers would probably have topped his career-high season total of 86 race days. That was in 2009, when he was a member of the U.S.-based Columbia-Highroad team and already acting as a support rider for most of the time—despite having been the world time trial champion three times between 2003 and 2005.
He continued in that role for Brad Wiggins at Team Sky in 2011 and 2012—and was so powerful on both flat and mountain stages at the Tour de France that he was lured away to race for Alberto Contador at Saxo-Tinkoff this past season.
One reason that the solid Australian has become an elite domestique has been his constant battles with ill health, notably mononucleosis, over the past half-dozen years that stopped him playing his own card. Early in his career, Rogers was the “hot new thing,” winning the Tour Down Under in 2002; taking the Tour of Belgium, Deutschland Tour and Route du Sud in 2003; and then winning his three rainbow jerseys.
At the 2007 Tour de France, he was the virtual yellow jersey midway through the second mountain stage when a nasty fall on his shoulder forced him to quit. The mononycleosis showed up the following year, and Rogers has since showed intermittent form—even though he was good enough to win the Amgen Tour of California in 2010 and the Tour of Bavaria in 2012.
He put in a powerful performance at this year’s Tour de France, where Rogers was sitting in the top 10 for most of the race, until he sacrificed himself in the final, difficult week. Even though Contador ended up in fourth, Saxo-Tinkoff won the overall team prize—a consolation prize, admittedly, but one that was due to the strong support roles played by Rogers and teammates such as Nicolas Roche. With his 11th Grand Tour under his belt (and a 16th place overall), I asked Rogers a few questions about his life as a support rider.
You’re nearing the end of your career, and yet you’re riding stronger than ever, with greater consistency. What’s the secret? Are you healthier this year?
“Yeah. I’ve actually got my health back into order. I had my tonsils out at the end of last year…and in a way it was a bit tragic. I didn’t have a good couple of months there. I had two very bad hemorrhages after it…and suffered with anemia for a long time. I think now that may have been the reason for my ill health the last five years. This year, I haven’t been sick once. It’s fantastic just to be able to plan sections of the year and fulfill goals without getting sick. Your health is so important, that’s for sure.”
You don’t win many races now, Michael, but you’re consistently one of the best climbers and time trialists in any race you do. Do you think that your current team role is understood by your many fans, particularly the newer ones?
“There’s a lot of new people in cycling and it takes a little while to understand the sport. But it’s just like any other job, you know. Your orders come down from the boss, and you have to do that. Personally, I know I can’t be there in the top five [at the Tour], and that comes from years of experience. I know my limits. Even so, I enjoy being part of a team…and playing that role.”
You had one of your strongest Tours de France this year….
“Yeah, I [did] walk away from it pretty happy. I think everyone knows that I could have [finished top 10]. Several times in the Tour I could have been there in the top five, top six, if I could have done my own race. That’s not what I do, you know. I’m paid to do what I do. And I kind of enjoy playing that role to tell you the truth, getting the guys together and forming a bond.”
You certainly seem to have been a major part in creating a good spirit in all your recent teams: Highroad, Sky and now Saxo Bank. But for a man who had so much success in the early part of your career, how hard is it to race like you do and know, especially at the Tour, that winning is out of the question?
“I knew coming to the Tour I’d have to sacrifice myself in the last week. And it was a tough last week. I was glad to be sitting on top of the last climb because I really paid the price for the big day I had the previous stage, when I did a lot of work. And of course we would have loved to finish on the podium with Alberto, but we have to take our hats off to the other guys. They were stronger. I’ve got no excuses.
“We tried everything we could. You can only give it your best. And we know deep within our hearts that we did everything we could. I would have loved to finish in the top 10…and do my own race. But that’s the way it is. That’s being part of a team. And it doesn’t change much for me.”
But as best team you were on the podium in Paris….
“Yeah, yeah, that’s the second time. We [won the team prize with T-Mobile] in 2006 as well…and that’s always a pleasure.”
How many more years do you think you can race?
“I’d love to do another two or three…. If I can do another three, I’d be happy with that, but I’d still like to keep involved with the sport in some shape or form. It’s like a drug isn’t it, this bloody sport? Once you get involved, that’s it. It just takes over your body and becomes a part of you, you know. For a lot of guys it’s hard to stop, I think. It’s like a part of you dies when you give up. It’s a life, and the day you stop it’s like part of you dies. But I’ve got a few more years yet….”
And, of course, you have a family to support….
“Yeah, they’re great. Two of my girls are six now, and the other one’s two-and-a-half. So I’ve got to keep riding to keep that family going. They’re expensive!”
Unlike many expatriates, when Michael Rogers moved from his Canberra home to Europe at the turn of the century, he came to stay. His wife is Italian, while his three young daughters are already ingrained into a European lifestyle. The Australian will be 34 next month, ready (and healthy) to head into another year in the service of others.
You can follow John on twitter.com @johnwilcockson