Rogers reflects on a cycling career without regrets

Michael Rogers was one of the best cyclists in the world at his peak, winning three world time trial titles, riding as a top-tier Grand Tour contender and forming a key part of some of the best teams in the peloton. Australian Cycling Insider caught up with Michael Rogers for a chat from Switzerland.

This conversation was part of a larger conversation with Rogers about the shift in culture of cycling during his 16-year career in the European peloton published on SBS Cycling Central.

Rogers came into the world of road racing as prodigious talent, with wins as a youngster at the Tour Down Under before a purple patch of form in the second half of 2003 preceded his first world championships time trial title.

He took out the general classification in three stage races that year, all performances based off strong returns in the time trial. He was named Australian cyclist of the year, and announced himself as one of the best riders around.

“I started to really learn about myself through the lens of a stage race rider in 2003,” said Rogers. “I had some really good success in some smaller races heading into the Tour (de France) that year, I had won the Tour of Belgium, the Deutschland Tour as well as the older version of the Route du Sud. 

“That was all good, but I quickly learnt that a 21-day race is very different from a week long stage race. I spent the next few years of my career working on how to keep backing up day after day after day.”

Michael Rogers at the world championships time trial (Twitter)

A ninth on GC at the 2006 Tour announced Rogers as a contender for the yellow jersey, and it might have been a reality, if he hadn’t crashed dramatically while the virtual leader of the 2007 edition of the Tour de France during Stage 8 and having to pull out of the race. The best GC result of Rogers’ career would prove to be a sixth-place overall in the Giro d’Italia, but Rogers continued to be part of the best teams in the world, from Quickstep, to T-mobile/Columbia, Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo.

Rogers characterised the common denominator of those teams being decisive leadership at the top, managers with very different approaches achieving results at the top of the sport.

“I think having that strong character at the top of the team, whether it be the team manager or the head sports director, that was the factor that was the same between them all,” said Rogers. “Not to say they were all the same, they were different styles.” 

“Take Bob Stapleton (Columbia), he was very good at finding the best subject experts in each area; the best sports director, the best mechanics, the best physios, the best equipment. 

“Dave Brailsford (Team Sky), very much with the management style, on the cutting edge of sports science. 

“Then Bjarne (Riis, Tinkoff-Saxo), he was a science person but was very hands on and very passionate about the team meeting. He was the absolute best in that respect. Everyone walked out of that meeting on the team bus ready to do their job for the team that day. 

“Patrick Lefevre (Quickstep), a very good manager who ran a very tight ship. I suppose my point here is that all these teams had their own leader, their own identity and management style, all very hard workers in sport that takes a lot of work and dedication.”

The biggest change remains the shift to a more numbers-driven methodology that Team Sky brought with them from the British Cycling Federation approach to Olympic success.

“In 2011 and 2012 I saw a massive shift,” said Rogers. “Team Sky brought a different approach to selecting the riders. They had a very rigorous process based on the numbers that you could produce, if those certain thresholds weren’t being hit in the lead-up to the Tour de France then you weren’t going.”

When asked if he had any regrets looking back on his career in professional cycling, a career that spanned important years in the development of the sport, as well as several shifts in Roger’s own career, the Griffith-born Australian was forthright.

“No I don’t,” said Rogers. “I think I was lucky really in my cycling career, I didn’t have any big injuries or crashes that prevented me from achieving my goals. Of course, winning the Tour de France was always a goal and I think that I would have been really close if I hadn’t crashed and broken my shoulder (in 2007). 

“I then went on to learn in subsequent years that my time to win the Tour de France was closed, it became more for climbers and guys like Contador were coming on the scene. Hill climbers became better at time trials, which was my domain. I’d defend myself in the mountains and not lose much time, but when hill-climbers like Contador came in, I knew my time was limited. 

“I got everything out that I thought that I could achieve. 2014 was a special year, I finally got the Tour de France stage win that I thought I could and took the Giro wins as well. I achieved everything that I wanted to in the sport for which I consider myself very lucky. Not everyone gets to say that.”

Rogers retired in 2016 and now lives in Switzerland, but is still involved with cycling, being involved with online riding on VirtuGo before the project ended in late 2019. With his experience as a road captain later in his career, it would seem a natural transition to move to a team director or athlete management role within the sport.

This interview was from before Rogers took up his new job as Technical Partner manager with NTT Pro Cycling in April 2020.

“I’ve taken a back seat to professional cycling, obviously I watch all the races I can with a passion, but getting my hands into the day-to-day of teams is not something I’m doing currently,” said Rogers. “But, never say never. When I stopped I really wanted to go and learn something new, get out there to challenge myself and broaden my horizons. 

“I’d definitely love to return to pro cycling in some shape or form. Sports director is interesting, but I’m really interested in improvement, so the coaching side, the aerodynamics side and time-trialling position. I wouldn’t discount it that some time in the future I might find my way back. I keep my contacts open and I’m in a dialogue with a lot of the teams. Never say never, that’s the best way to put it.”

A certain type of professional can become a bit jaded with the sport that has consumed so much of their lives up until this point, but that is not the way with Rogers. The joy of cycling isn’t just tied to the professional side of the sport now for the 40-year-old, and he talked about what currently excites him within the sport.

“I think what’s really exciting about cycling is the potential cycling still has,” said Rogers. “You put any kid on a bike, or even any adult on a bike and they smile. 

“I’m definitely seeing it where I’m living now, in Switzerland. Nine bikes out of ten are electric bikes now and people that you think wouldn’t enjoy cycling go past at 40 km/hr with a smile from ear to ear. I believe strongly in the bike, everyone enjoys cycling. 

“As a kid growing up it’s your first freedom, going 100 metres up the road from your parents before turning back. I deeply believe in that and I believe cycling has huge potential to regenerate itself. I think there are a lot of changes needed and I think the opportunities are really exciting, but cycling does have to adapt to the changing lifestyle of the modern person.”

Now the Technical Partner Manager at NTT Pro Cycling, Michael Rogers wrote this piece on goal-setting in the midst of the COVID lockdown. It’s well worth a read.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger