On the afternoon of 18 December 2013, two days before Michael Rogers turned 34, he was a professional cyclist employed by the Saxo-Tinkoff team. It was the end of another successful season, his 14th as a pro, and he had taken his daughters to their swimming lessons near his European base in Mendrisio, Switzerland. He took his jacket off and enjoyed being able to watch his girls in the pool. When it was time to leave, he found his phone in the pocket and saw that he’d missed six calls from a Swiss number he didn’t recognise. He retrieved his voicemails and heard news that would destroy his reputation. “Positive.” “Clenbuterol.”
There were other words but these were the two, when mentioned in connection with his name, that floored him. Rogers literally dropped to the ground in a state of shock.
Within 14 minutes of that voicemail being left, the UCI had issued a statement relating to a doping control taken at the Japan Cup in October. Rogers was the winner. He was tested. And he returned a urine sample that contained traces of clenbuterol. His professional life had collapsed.
He was suspended from racing and suspended by his team.
Two days later he issued a statement: “I would like to make it very clear, in the strongest terms possible that I have never knowingly or deliberately ingested Clenbuterol.
“I can advise that during the period 8th – 17th of October, before arriving in Japan, I was present in China for the WorldTour race, Tour of Beijing. I understand that it has been acknowledged by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) as well as other anti-doping bodies, that food contaminated with Clenbuterol is a serious problem in China*.” And then he set about clearing his name.
It wasn’t going to be a simple process but he never waivered and, on the morning of 23 April 2014 he announced that he could indeed race his bike again. “Today, I received the extremely pleasing news that the UCI has decided that no period of ineligibility is to be imposed against me following my inadvertent adverse analytical finding for Clenbuterol in October 2013. As a consequence, my provisional suspension is lifted with immediate effect.”
His victory in the Japan Cup was wiped from the records. He missed four months of competition. But otherwise, it would be back to business as usual.
“Over the past four months, my family and I have endured a very difficult time. The UCI’s decision means I can return to racing immediately, and I am looking forward to getting back to work, competing in the sport I love.
“I wish to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, teammates, colleagues, medical experts and fans who have showed continued support and understanding. Further, I wish to show my gratitude to the board of Tinkoff-Saxo for the professional manner with which this ambiguous ordeal has been handled. Thank you for having the perception of what is right, rather than following the path of least resistance.”
(*For the sake of interest, here is a summary of the situation relating to clenbuterol use in Australia.)
* * * * *
RIDE spoke to Rogers 15 minutes after his news was announced. Here is a transcript of that exchange with Rob Arnold…
RIDE: Mick, it’s nice to talk to you on a day that you feel a bit of relief, I’d imagine.
Michael Rogers: “I certainly do. It’s been a long few months for my family and myself. It’s certainly a relief to get the news from the UCI that no sanction will be held against me and that I didn’t have any significant fault in what happened there in China. It’s obviously very, very good news.”
How do you receive it? It has been a few months of total angst, I would imagine, do you want to talk us through the beginning of it all – from when you actually received the news… how do you want to relay how it feels to be exonerated?
“It’s a big relief. The hardship of what I went through – something I loved was taken away from me in one moment. It’s hard to deal with but I just slowly tapped away at it.
“I kept training, kept my head together, with the hope that it would be resolved. And today is that day.”
How was it communicated to you?
“The UCI sent me through the letter this morning saying that the case in relation to the documentation that I produced – and the explanations of what happened – they accepted those.”
There was talk about a statement at the Tour of Beijing saying that riders ought not to go from there to the Japan Cup… Where do we go with this case? Is it an example of what’s to happen with the Tour of Beijing?
“I don’t know where it will go. I know the UCI obviously stated in its press release today that the presence of clenbuterol in urine [samples is] still regarded as an anti-doping violation. And I don’t exactly know what the future position of the UCI will be. Personally, I would exercise extreme caution if travelling, especially to countries where a history of clenbuterol is well documented. Actually, I’d go as far as saying: avoid meat… it’s a very, very complicated subject and through this period it was a subject that I was able to learn a little bit more about and I can see how ambiguous it is.”
This has got the potential to be a landmark case, Mick. Do you realise that?
“We don’t know if it will be a landmark case. I think a lot can be learnt from it. Once again the UCI has stated that they’ll continue to assess – in the foreseeable future – case-by-case. But all I can say is that I hope a lot will be learnt from my case from both sides of the coin. And when I say that I mean that, I hope that the relevant authorities will learn a lot from my case and that the athletes can learn a lot from my case as well – and the dangers of eating meat in countries where there’s a known problem.
“There are a lot of challenges and it’s a really sensitive case. It’s so complicated.”
Can you relay some of the numbers so that we understand it.
“It’s considered ‘one element’. That’s all it takes: one element [of clenbuterol] and you’re positive.”
It’s a really complicated situation that I don’t understand myself. I have a better understanding of it now but I can see the issues from both perspectives, and it’s so hard to establish what the level is.”
Let’s talk about the immediate future: are you fit and are you ready to go to, for example, the Giro d’Italia which starts in Belfast soon?
“I’ve continued to train. I haven’t missed a day of training but I will say, that’s training fitness and we know that I haven’t had any racing since this ordeal came up.
“I’ll sit down with the team in the next week or few days and we’ll try to work out the most efficient way to move forward.
“My goal is still certainly to ride the Tour de France and the Giro could be a part of that, but that discussion has to take place.”
Since the news from the UCI was received by you, have you had contact with the team?
“Yes, I called them this morning once I was given the information.”
And who did you speak to and what did they say?
“Obviously I spoke to Bjarne [Riis], I spoke to Oleg Tinkov. And the team is really happy to have me back and is looking to get me back into racing in the shortest timeframe possible. They’re really excited.”