There was a time several years ago when it was Mick Rogers, not Cadel Evans, who was hyped to be Australia’s first Tour de France winner.
The tables turned over the past several years, however, and it was Evans riding triumphantly into the maillot jaune last year while Rogers has struggled with health issues that had him questioning his future in the sport.
This year, it’s Evans who’s in the hurt box, dropping to fourth overall on Thursday, while Rogers is riding high as an essential piece of Sky’s dominance through this Tour.
“It’s an honor to be here with this team and in the Tour, with such a good team. We’ve worked hard the whole season,” Rogers told VeloNews. “We’ve been chasing this race since December last year. We’re all motivated to help Bradley win.”
Rogers has been one of the key helpers to protect Wiggins and now second-place man Chris Froome in the Tour.
Just as he has on every climbing stage so far, Rogers rode at the front Thursday over the day’s major climbs, burying himself to keep the pace high and prevent dangerous, long-distance attacks from Wiggins’ GC rivals.
Rogers peeled off at the base of the final La Toussuire climb, his work done for the day.
That kind of riding is a long way from the days at Mapei and High Road, where Rogers was developing into a potential Tour winner.
A winner of three time trial world championships, Rogers was making steady progress, with victories in shorter stage races and a punch into the top 10 at the Tour.
A bad crash in the 2007 Tour was a setback, however. But even worse was a long-running bout with mononucleosis.
Uncomfortable questions about a relationship with controversial Italian trainer Michele Ferrari — with whom he cut off ties back in 2006 — didn’t make matters any better.
Rogers struggled through a few seasons, but bounced back with a win at the Amgen Tour of California and the Ruta del Sol in 2010, good for his first European victory since 2005.
Rogers’ personal odyssey landed him at Sky in 2011, where he struggled yet again with mononucleosis before regaining his footing this season.
“When I look back, in one way, I am kind of glad for it, because you see things in a different perspective. Sometimes it’s good to take a bit of time out, because you can analyze some stuff and see where you made some mistakes,” Rogers said. “Sometimes when you’re so involved, balling out season after season, it’s quite easy to bog down into a trap like I did, and I just got sick.”
Sky put confidence in Rogers and allowed him to get healthy and slowly regain his top fitness and confidence.
That paid off this season, with a win at Bayern-Rundfahrt, second at the Dauphiné, third at Critérium International and fifth at the Tour de Romandie.
“It’s good to be back at a good level,” Rogers said. “I just had to get over my illness. I had to start from zero.”
Perhaps it’s ironic that Rogers is one of the driving forces of Sky’s juggernaut that is toppling Australia’s first Tour champion, Evans.
Rogers, along with fellow Aussie Richie Porte, have been the leading lieutenants for Wiggins and Froome. But for Rogers, he says it’s all part of doing the business of a professional bike rider.
“We get on with the job. We are mates off the bike. We respect each other on the bike as well,” Rogers said of riding against Evans. “At the end of the day, we all have our jobs.”
For now, Sky just wants to keep the train rolling toward the Pyrénées. Rogers will try to get through the string of transition stages using as little as energy as possible.
The tactics are simple: keep Wiggins out of trouble and bring him to the final climb.
“It’s going to be tough out there. We are expecting a lot of attacks,” Rogers said. “For us, the Tour is just starting. It’s a Tour, anything can happen. We have to take it day-by-day, do what’s needed to keep him in the lead.”
Rogers also said the mood inside the Team Sky bus is very different to what their race-day demeanors may appear to outside observers.
Wiggins, for one, has snapped at more than a few journalists during this Tour, but Rogers said inside the cocoon of the Sky organization, the British star is quite a different man.
“Bradley is super-duper relaxed. He knows he’s done the work. He’s knows he has the results leading into the race. There’s no reason for him to be uptight about anything,” Rogers said. “Sometimes there is some pressure that comes with the jersey. A lot of people have doubted him, that he couldn’t keep his condition, but so far he is proving all his critics wrong.”