Michael Rogers: working for Alberto Contador
On the Thursday before the 100th Tour de France, Saxo-Tinkoff held a press conference at the team hotel in Porto Vecchio. While Alberto Contador spoke in a room full of media, Rob Arnold and Michael Rogers sat outside and had a chat about how the Australian has prepared for the Tour, the differences between his 2013 team and the Sky outfit he raced the Tour with in 2012… and what he expects from the race this year. Here is a transcript of that exchange.
Micheal Rogers (27 June 2013)
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My understanding about the Dauphiné is that Alberto Contador was committed to working for you…
Rogers: “Yeah, certainly he was. We thought that second or third on [general] classification was certainly possible so it was a goal that we went for. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, I dropped back to sixth overall on the last day but that’s the way it goes.
“It was a good race for me… well apart from the last day. I have trouble in cloudy conditions like we had and it really affects my asthma. When it’s really foggy and cloudy, I have problems.”
It must be a nice sensation to have someone of Contador’s ability at your disposal. And now the moment has come for payback time… and the notion of working for someone else comes a little easier after an experience like you had early in June.
Rogers: “Certainly. I think it shows what kind of a person Alberto is. He’s got a massive heart. He loves his sport. And he knows that if he works in the races like he did in the Dauphiné for me, he knows that he’ll get 10 times payback when it’s at the Tour.”
And what about the transition from team to team. You were with Sky, it was the dominant force in the Tour de France and you did everything right… then you leave. Have you taken lessons from Sky to Saxo?
Rogers: “I think they’re like two different teams in more way than name and nationality alone. It’s difficult to compare them. Sky is very business-like – it’s run like a very big corporation, so to speak. And Saxo is completely different; it’s run more like a family operation. But I really think that the team – Saxo – is really looking to change their way.
“I think road cycling has gone in a completely different direction and that’s being led by Sky at the moment.”
What sort of things are you talking about? We saw obvious changes: the trainers for you to cool down on at the finish, the training camps at Tenerife… but not all of it is new. What’s the key difference?
Rogers: “My general feels are that Sky took all this SRM data and actually put it into a package that they could use. They started learning exactly what was necessary to win any type of race. They had the data and they started basing the training off that.
“For years we’ve all been collecting data. But I think 95 per cent of the teams are just looking at the data and going, ‘That looks great. There are a bunch of pretty squiggly lines on the screen…’ but no one really interpreted what it meant.
“Sky really studied it all and took it down to a granular level. They broke down every element and reverse engineered it and really understood what was necessary to do to win this race or to be the level that’s required to be a good domestique or what level you have to be to pull in the last week of the Tour… they know it and no other team does with the data what they have done.”
There was criticism about the tactics you guys [Sky] employed last year because it was perceived to be a little bit boring. You were using science to make it an effective victory. Do you think the same can happen with Contador? He has a very different sort of personality doesn’t he?
Rogers: “Alberto and Bradley are two completely different riders. If you compare the two of them or Alberto and Chris Froome, you get two very contrasting styles.
“In my opinion, Alberto uses his emotions a lot and gets the best out of himself that way. Whereas Bradley and Chris are very, very calculated in everything they do; they know exactly every day way their output can be and what they can hold for a certain time and they ride accordingly.”
Who did you room with last year during the Tour and who will you be sharing with now that you’re with Saxo-Tinkoff?
Rogers: “I was on my own last year. It was nice. I was actually meant to be with Kanstantsin Siutsou but he crashed out and then I was on my own for the last couple of weeks.
“This year, during the Tour, I’m in with Daniele Benatti… we get along well.”
How do you compare the Tour de France with your experience in the Tour of California? You’ve won that race before and this year it seemed like it marked your comeback to form after tonsillitis.
Rogers: “I struggled up until the month of the Tour of California really. After my tonsillectomy I had a bunch of issues. I suffered with anemia for months and things were quite right.
“I had so much blood loss after the operation – I had two hemorrhages, pretty serious ones – and I was in a pretty bad state in December and January.”
What’s the solution to that? Just rest?
Rogers: “Yeah. Time heals all, right? It’s hard to get your iron levels back up to normal after something like that. I just continuously struggled with that.”
Is that related to the Epstein-Barr virus where you’re just struck down by fatigue?
Rogers: “I think it had more to do with the tonsils. My tonsils were just rotten and I just kept picking up infections and if that was a correlation between the two, I don’t know but I have a feeling there was. In the past five years I’ve been waking up every second morning with a sore throat and ever since I’ve had them out, I haven’t been sick once. I kind of wish I could rewind time and have had my tonsils out 10 years ago but that’s the way it was – you’ve got to play with the cards you get given, don’t you?”
With you, we see a couple of hot and cold years because of illnesses. Does the sickness come from the fatigue of racing or the demands of parenting or travel…
Rogers: “Just everything combined. It’s a general fatigue.”
So you’ve changed your lifestyle?
Rogers: “No. Not really. Previously, in recent years when I’ve been – as you say – running hot or cold, I’d do a hard day of training and then wake up and feel like I’d been run over by a truck the next morning. Now I can wake up and it’s all good.
“My gut feeling is that my health is substantially better since I had my tonsils out.”
In this race, how do you imagine the tactics playing out are you going to be the last man for Alberto or is that going to be Jesus [Hernandez] or someone else? What’s the sequence?
Rogers: “We’ve got [Roman] Kreuziger too and he’s riding really well. I think it’s hard to have a predetermined order going into the race but I’ll certainly be around the mark between Roman, ‘Nico’ [Roche] and Jesus. I think we’ve got a team that’s kind of covered for any situation. We’ve got Benjamin [Noval], Daniele Bennati and Matteo Tosatto for the flat, Paulinho for the medium stages, Jesus and I can also play a role in those stages.
“In the bigger mountain stages, I think we’ve got the people to take Alberto as far as we can – halfway up the last climb when the big guys come out to play. Of course we might not all be there but that’s when there are only 10 guys left.”
Do you think you’ll be watching your numbers as closely as you did last year? When you talk about all the SRM data, do you think the habits of Sky will remain with you with this team?
Rogers: “Even before joining Sky I learned a lot about power, it’s always something I’ve been very interested in. I’ve always based my training around that.
“It’s not only about what we see in the numbers. So much more goes into it but it can be a very good guide and you can distribute your strengths instead of just going into the red and then finishing the day on the first climb. Sometimes it’s better just to take it stead; know your limits and stay within them.”
Do you talk to Alberto very much and does he use the numbers too? It looks as though he rides on emotion and that he attacks, quite simply, when he feels good.
Rogers: “Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good observation. In my opinion he knows what he’s doing based on how he feels. In the past he’s often the first one to attack on the last mountain. He does so early but I think now he’s got a team that will be able to let him ride without having to do that.
“If he’s going to make the difference, it’s going to be in the last three or four kilometres of the climbs. He has confidence in us and we have the confidence that, between Roman and I and the other guys, we can take him right up until a place in the stage when he can make the difference with his attacks.”
And time trialing… is he on the level he was at in 2009 and, similarly, are you back in a good time trial level as well?
Rogers: “I think Alberto has got a little bit of work to do. Chris [Froome] is at a higher level in the time trials. Alberto has certainly got work to do.
“I don’t think the Dauphiné was an accurate reflection of where he’s at. Everyone suffers allergies differently, some suffer more in certain conditions. For sure, he had a bad day. It was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable at all on his bike. I know he’d been playing around with his position a little bit…
“I don’t need to make excuses for him but I don’t think he was on a particularly good day. He can take a lot from what happened. You can look at the negative side of things or he can look at the positive: ‘I need to work on it…’ and I think he has been working on it quite a lot since the Dauphiné. I hope he’s improved.”
What’s the podium in Paris going to be in three weeks?
Rogers: “Aaah… I’m not a betting man but give you’ve asked – and in no particular order – I think Contador will be there, Froome will be there… and there are five other guys who could be on the podium.”
Is Richie one of those?
Rogers: “I think so, yeah. But it depends on how much work he has to do. Certainly I think he could be there.
“Right now I see Froome and Contador and they’re in their own league, particularly in the mountains. Not far behind are Richie and Cadel and a few others. I don’t know how Valverde is going – I think he’s been progressing really well. He started off really slow and it looks like he’s getting better and better but the Tour is the Tour and you’ve got to get through the first week too.”
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