From The Canberra Times
Rogers has front row seat as Armstrong show rides on
Wednesday, 21 July 2004
Canberra's Michael Rogers has been keeping a close eye on five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
After all, the 32-year-old American has rewritten the guide book on how to win the toughest race in the world and Rogers has been tipped as an Aussie who could break through and claim the race winner's coveted yellow jersey in the future.
From watching Belgian one-day classics king Johan Museeuw as a kid to riding along with former tour cyclist Neil Stephens on his December holidays back in Australia, Rogers has always seemed destined for great things.
On his Tour debut last year, after winning a prestigious triple in the Tours of Germany, Belgium and the Route du Sud, his Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere confidently announced Rogers' bid for the Tour de France crown in three or four years time.
A year has passed, and Rogers - despite a relatively quiet season so far due to his impending Olympic Games commitments - is well within reaching his goal of a top 20 finish. He could even do better.
He survived two tough days in the Pyrenees, where second-placed Armstrong - who is still 22 seconds adrift of France's Thomas Voeckler - put most of his rivals to the sword.
After a week of mishaps, the 24-year-old Rogers lost only six minutes to Armstrong after two morale-sapping days in the mountains to sit as the leading Australian in 26th at 18:08 behind Voeckler.
"For me, coming here this year was getting to know the race a bit more, and I think I've improved out of sight," Rogers said on yesterday's rest day, ahead of the first of four days in the Alps.
"Given the amount I've improved in this year, I really think that I can ride in the top five. I have a lot of improvement to go and I'm willing to work at it, because I want to arrive on the podium.
"Things didn't go really well for me from the first week - I'd be in the top 20 by now. I lost a lot of time at the prologue, the day on the paves [cobbles] I crashed, in the time trial I punctured, and I lost another minute there ... you know, five minutes here, a minute there, another 30 seconds there, it all adds up."
Rogers, who lives in Italy with his fiancee Alessia, admits the Olympic Games time trial next month is one of his big goals. It was one of the reasons he decided against racing the Route du Sud.
"I've got a lot to do at the Olympic Games. I want to get to the end of the Tour and still have some energy left for the next race. And then I'll have a break," Rogers said.
Before Athens, Rogers has enjoyed seeing a record 10 Australians take part in the Tour, although only seven survive.
His family has a cycling heritage - which introduced him to Museeuw when he was growing up. Stephens was another inspiration.
Rogers has his own remarkable ability in both the time trial and the mountains - vital ingredients needed for anyone wishing to win the Tour de France.
"It certainly feels good when other Australians on the Tour do well. We're always the little Aussie gang, always talking.
"It seems only a couple of years ago it was Neil Stephens, Phil Anderson and guys like that.
"I remember in Canberra when Neil used to come home he used to come out with our little training bunch. At the end I used to try and get him to go on and he would be saying, 'go home'. And I would be like, 'no, no. Come on, just another 10km'.
"But Neil was like God, it was unbelievable. Those guys all created the dream for us. There's a lot more of us now and the future definitely looks good."
For now Rogers is happy to watch and learn as he continues his progress towards challenging for honours in the near future.
"I believe in finding my own path, but there are things I can learn from other racers, especially Lance. He's so well prepared, and every little detail he's looked at - he looks at the courses, he's got his own team cook. At the end of the day, all that makes a difference."
Despite admitting to missing Australia, Rogers is looking forward to getting into the house he has just built in Italy.
"I do miss Australia - just hanging out being an Aussie. Some things you do in Australia you can't do in Italy. It's just a different culture. But I like Italy. My fiancee is Italian, I've just finished building a house, and I'm just settling in now."