Bagneres de Luchon: Before the Tour de France entered the Pyrenees on Tuesday for the first of three stages in the mountain range bordering Spain, Michael Rogers said: “I’m not a big fan of riding 230km into a headwind with a couple of guys. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Fast forward more than six hours after telling Fairfax Media what he thought about the 16th stage – at 237km the longest of the Tour - from Carcassonne to Bagneres de Luchon.
Rogers wins stage 16 in Tour de France
Australian Michael Rogers wins his first ever Tour de France stage as Italian Vicenzo Nibali maintains his overall race lead.
Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), 35 and from the ACT, was celebrating his first stage win in the Tour after featuring in a day-long break that once numbered 21 riders but at the top of the final climb with 22km to go was only five.
And his excitement for claiming the win could not be contained - not that he tried to, as he seemingly roared in delight to himself and then bowed to the cheering crowd as he crossed the line nine seconds to finish first ahead of the four riders who dropped behind him.
In order were Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) of Belarus, Colombian Jose Serpa (Lampre) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) of France.
Meanwhile, Tour leader, Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished 20th at 8m 32s in a group of six riders that included from the top 10 overall contenders Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) and Leopold Konig (NettApp-Endura) of the Czech Republic.
With many riders losing time on a stage that included five categorised climbs, the stage left Nibali going into Wednesday’s 124.5km 17th stage from Saint Gaudens to Saint Lary Pla d’Adet with 4m 37s on second placed Valverde, 5m 6s on Pinot who moved up from fourth to third, and 6m 8s on Peraud who rose from sixth to fourth.
Rogers looked strong and confident throughout the stage – even more so when the break whittled down to five riders and he threw caution to the wind on the descent from the last climb, the Porte de Bales, that he knew from having raced on it before.
“It’s amazing. I knew once I got to the bottom of the last climb, the race really began for me,” said Rogers who is racing his 10th Tour.
“I knew Tommy Voeckler would be hard to beat. I tried a few times to drop him on the climb, but I couldn’t. I knew I had to outwit them in the final.
“Voeckler had a teammate behind, and he started playing that game, but I wouldn’t have it.
“I said, 'listen, don’t play with me, you’re not going to beat me today, there's no way.'
“On the descent, I thought, I've been in this position too many times to lose, I’m either going to crash or I’m going to win today.”
The break reformed near the end of the descent, Rogers unleashed his prowess in the time trial that has won him three world titles and attacked alone with 4.5km to go.
From there, it was head down – albeit occasionally he turned behind to see if his former attackers were closing – all the way to the finish where his triumph awaited.
Meanwhile, for his Tinkoff-Saxo team, it was their second stage win of a Tour marred by the loss of their leader and Tour favourite, Spaniard Alberto Contador who abandoned the race after fracturing his tibia in a crash in the Vosges on stage 10.
Rogers’ win follows his two stage wins in this year’s Giro d’Italia in a season he only started in late April after the Union Cycliste Internationale cleared him to compete after a provisional ban following a positive test for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup last October. The UCI ruled the result was probably due to contaminated meat from China.
However, Rogers has been in terrific form since his return to racing in late April.
He says he also has a different outlook on his career, one that allows him to dare.
“I'm racing smarter. I realise you have to be in it to win it,” he said on Tuesday.
“Before, I was just too scared of the outcome before it arrived.
“I realised, if you try our best, the worst thing that can happen is that you can lose.
“I think I see those opportunities much clearer now.”