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Sidelined for several months this season as a result of his positive test for clenbuterol at last year’s Japan Cup, Tinkoff Saxo rider Mick Rogers has said that while his suspension – later reversed by the UCI – was a very stressful period, that it ultimately made him a much better rider.
The Australian told CyclingTips that the period led to a complete re-evaluation of his mental and physical approach to cycling, with the enforced break from competition giving him time to reflect, to rethink how he had traditionally done things and to tackle the demands of cycling in a different way.
Rogers’ positive test came after he won the 2013 Japan Cup, which in turn was several days after he rode the Tour of Beijing. It was determined that the clenbuterol in his system was most likely due to the known issues with food contamination in China.
Both the UCI and WADA have acknowledged that there is a very real risk of testing positive for the substance due to that contamination and, in that light, it was of little surprise that Rogers was cleared to return to racing in April.
The governing body commented on the matter at the time, acknowledging that Rogers’ participation in the Tour of Beijing – a race owned by its own Global Cycling Promotions company – was the likely cause. “In accordance with the UCI Anti-Doping Rules and the World Anti-Doping Code, Mr Rogers took the opportunity to explain to the UCI how the prohibited substance had entered his system, and to provide supporting information,” it said then in a statement.
“Upon careful analysis of Mr Rogers’ explanations and the accompanying technical reports the UCI found that that there was a significant probability that the presence of clenbuterol may have resulted from the consumption of contaminated meat from China – where he had taken part in a race before travelling to Japan.”
While he lost the Japan Cup result, he was able to return to racing and lined out in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Although he was a non-finisher there, he went on to compete in the Giro d’Italia and took two stage victories.
He was triumphant on stage 11 to Savona and then emerged best on the penultimate stage to the summit of Monte Zoncolan.
He then went on to the Tour de France with the goal of helping Alberto Contador try to win the race. After the Spaniard crashed out, he helped Rafal Majka to two stages plus the mountains classification in the race; on a personal note, he triumphed on stage 16 into Bagneres de Luchon, taking his first-ever stage victory in the event.
In the first half of a two part interview with CyclingTips, Rogers spoke about what was one of the best seasons of his career, talked about his changed approach to training and racing and also detailed how his suspension affected him mentally and why it ultimately made him a better competitor.
CyclingTips: First off, let’s look back at 2014. Has the season been more successful than you expected?
Mick Rogers: Yes. It was obviously a different season for me. It was very training-based. I actually took a lot away from that. I learned how important training is, specifically a lot of short training.
I totally changed the way I carried out the whole training process and the planning of training. I will take that into next year. I’ll probably do less racing and a lot more training.
The plan will basically be to race and to identify areas where I am lacking. I can then take time out and then work on those lacking areas, addressing them, then bring the improvements it into the next race.
CT: Who is doing your coaching at present?
MR: It’s all within the team. All within the team. I believe they are boosting up. One of our desires is to really strengthen the DS’s and the coaching staff. The training is all done within the team.
CT: Alberto Contador was said to be working with Steven de Jongh this year. Do you work with him?
MR: I work with Steven quite a lot, actually. And also I have been in this game a long time, and now I know what I need to do. Obviously with the SRM cranks we are able to see what is required within the races, what needs to be addressed.
I have that the mentality to do in training what I need to have in races. To do that kind of intensity, I knew that I had to cut the training hours down and focus on quality over time.
CT: Do you think therefore you made errors earlier in your career?
MR: Yes, yes. In hindsight, yes. I think I trained too many hours. And I have quite a few theories about that, actually. A lot of pro cyclists…and I was like this myself…I think they gain confidence and mental ability by hours instead of quality.
When you are coming to a stage race or a one day Classic, you say, ‘I have done five [hour rides] there and six there,’ but now looking back on it, I know that is not the right thing to concentrate on.
CT: Can you explain what you mean?
MR: Well, when I am getting dropped it is in the last hour of the race, when we are going as fast as we can. So I kind of reversed that because I know I am not going to get dropped riding along at 20 miles an hour. I then really focussed on those particular efforts that I needed to pick up on.
CT: You had some bouts of mononucleosis. At one point you expressed some pessimism about being the rider you were before. However you had a very a good season this year. Have you got that virus totally out of your system?
MR: Well, it is always in the back of my mind. It always is. I think it is the kind of thing I just have to live with. I need to accept the fact that I know if I ever train and really push it too much, I will slowly get more and more tired during the year.
I think now I am just a bit wiser on picking on up on getting to that point of fatigue where there are low periods of immunity.
That might mean sitting up one day and then riding in the grupetto in a major stage race. But if that needs to happen, it needs to happen. I am not prepared to drive myself into the ground any more. That obviously opens me up to opportunities to go for stages.
I know I can’t be fighting out of the top few positions in major Tours. But I think I showed this year that by riding a bit more smarter and within myself, stage wins are well and truly within my ability.
Grand Tour stages and shifted mentality:
CT: How big was it for your confidence to take two stages in the Giro plus the win in the Tour de France?
MR: The second stage win in the Giro was a huge confidence boost for me. I think it verified that the training I had done was working.
The first one was a bit of a surprise and maybe I was lucky. During the Tour stage, I had laser focus. I know that especially if it came down to the final with those guys I would be really competitive. So I drew a lot of those experiences. Especially those in the Giro.
CT: Presumably there was a lot of emotion with the Tour win?
MR: Ah yes, I think every kid growing up on their bike at ten years old one day dreams of winning a Tour stage. I went close a couple of times and lost the battle, but this year I think I just came into those situations with a much clearer mind.
I left behind my…what’s the word…my fear of losing, and of messing up before getting to the final. Instead, I felt that I really had nothing to lose. I think I had quite a shift in my way of thinking.
CT: What do you mean in terms of a shift?
MR: I mean what I had been through in the winter with the clenbuterol case. That absolutely changed me mentally, there is no doubt about that.
I probably took things a little bit for granted, over time, and I think I got into a rut in my cycling career. I certainly had a mental limit and was scared to break through my comfort zone. But those kind of issues just fell by the wayside when I went through my clenbuterol case.
When I came out of it, I think I was sick of being frustrated. Before that I was always trying to save energy, save energy, save energy for the next day. Then the next day you save energy again and all it was causing was a bunch of frustration for me.
My motto this year was that I had to be in it to win it. And if I tried and didn’t succeed, I took something positive away that I almost got there, I almost won. But if you never try and you fail, it just led to endless frustration for me. I wasn’t prepared to carry around those suitcases of frustration on my back. I really wanted to eliminate that.
If you are able to break through that wall…I think you saw my emotions when I won the Tour stage. I think that winning that battle with yourself was a more important feeling than the actual result itself.
CT: Was there an element in it that the time away from the bike perhaps made you realise that your career is finite?
MR: Obviously. Over time I think you take for granted what a pro cyclist has. We travel the world, we lead this unbelievable life that most people would give their right arm for. But a lot of times – and I am guilty of this too – all you hear is complaining amongst the riders about this and that.
You are given all these bikes, and most people would just give their right arm for that stuff.
Okay, they are tools for your job. I will say that, but in my time out I did realise how much I craved, literally, being part of the team, winning races and being part of a feeling or a purpose to win races. I realised that I really did miss that.
Also see: Mick Rogers interview part 2: Tinkov’s Grand Tour challenge, personal goals and more