February 18, 2009 (Santa Cruz, CA) — We caught up with former ITT World Champion Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia-Highroad relaxing after Stage 2 in Santa Cruz. The 29-year-old Rogers is back in the hunt after crashes and illness made the last two years difficult for the rising star. This is Rogers third Tour of California, and coming off the recent Tour Down Under, he’s in good form sitting in second place overall.
You’re much better form than most riders here who didn’t compete in Australia at the Tour Down Under, so should it surprise fans that you and Lance (Armstrong) are both doing so well so early in the season?
Michael Rogers: This one of thee major goals of the year for the team. Being from California, it’s important for the team and I wanted to start the year off well myself. It’s been a rough couple of years with injuries and such. I wanted to prove that I was ready with a big bang, and I’ve got a big bone to pick with a few races, so”¦
This is your third Tour of California so you know the landscape and fickle weather – are you serious about being podium-bound.
MR: I’m not at my best right now, probably 75-85 percent. I’m pacing myself, but it feels good. I’m also going to the Giro and the Tour de France, both of which I’m really looking forward to, so this tour is a perfect venue. But I’m here to get on the podium this week!
This year’s course is by far the hardest with a few very steep climbs the last day of the tour as well as some tough climbs before the ITT in Solvang. Does it hamper your chances of a podium finish?
MR: Course-wise I can’t remember it being so hard, so this tour marks a change in its intentions — now to be thought of like a mini Grand Tour. Normally it’s a bunch sprint on a course like yesterday (Stage 2), but it got broken apart with Levi going for the win, that’s unusual.
Have you scoped out and ridden the Palomar Pass and Col Grade near San Diego?
MR: No”¦I hear it’s a good challenge, made for a pure climber!
It’s AToC’s way of re-shuffling the deck and could change the Tour’s leader if anything changes between now and then. How do you plan to deal with it?
MR: We’re all going to have to keep something up our sleeves for that day, some reserves for a difficult ending. To have such a hard day on the last day defies tradition. It’s usually easy on the last day, so the cat is getting thrown among the pigeons, and we will all have to have something more than normal. It will play itself out differently this year I hope, and our team is looking forward to trying to do just that against a very strong Astana team, but it won’t be easy.
Who’s better suited to do some damage on that last brutal day?
MR: For Palomar, Levi. It’s too much hill for me, but I’ll try to be in the mix, get on the podium at the end of the day. It’s tough to compete with smaller frames like Levi when the steep stages come.
Astana has so much depth and this being Levi’s race for Astana as he stamped that on everyone’s mind yesterday. Does that sort of dominance influence your team?
MR: Of course we also have a lot of big talent, including ex-riders with Lance during his domination, so we also focus on who among us has the best chances of winning stages or GC, and so far, it’s going very well.
And George (Hincapie), will he be Kim Kirchen’s lieutenant as he was for Lance?
MR: George has some good and tough days on the bike ahead of him. He got a bad break and missed the gap yesterday, and then with a puncture right before the cut off he lost a lot of time. For a big guy, he’s pretty amazing what he can do – he is a quiet fighter. I certainly can’t handle the really steep stuff, so my job is clearly to help the others when I can and vice versa, and continue protecting my GC.
When cycling is done and you are ready to move on to another career, what have you thought about?
MR: Good question. After all this I’d like to stay in cycling in some way, not as a DS , that wouldn’t be fun for me at all. Something more on the technical side, with my background in aerodynamics being on the track and time trials”¦helping with bike position. Not making a faster bike really, making better of what a particular person has, doing that every day, noticing the details and improving their particular positions. There’s no point in training every day and killing yourself if your position isn’t perfect, right?
That’s what wins world championships and you are a testament to that. We’ll be watching your progress — all the best.