• Michael Rogers at the 2015 Tour Down Under (Getty)Source: Getty
Michael Rogers saw the professional cycling scene change from a European-centric culture of riding on emotion and feel to a more cosmopolitan, scientifically-driven peloton.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

2 Jul 2019 - 12:46 PM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2020 - 3:57 AM

Michael Rogers humble beginnings from country town Griffith to the peaks of the Tour de France took a young New South Welshman and thrust him into the bustle of the professional cycling in 2000 as a 20 year-old. 

Rogers forged a successful career in the pro ranks, winning the world championships time trial three times running from 2003-5 and using his talents to take top-tier stage race results as well. Now retired from racing for three years, Rogers spoke with Cycling Central about how the culture of professional cycling changed during his time in the sport.

"Up until maybe 2006, 2007, cycling was always a very mainland European sport. Centralised into those big countries; Spain, France, Belgium and Italy. Their approach was a very passionate approach. Day by day riders would take into consideration their feelings and their physical state day-by-day.

"It's a different approach to what the... let's say 'peripheral' countries of the cycling world like Australia did. We know that the US and UK in particular changed the sport in a couple of years. The US approached the sport through the lens of science. The abundance of physical data that we have in our hands, available to us through various sensors: power meters, heart-rate monitors, etc. is phenomenal."

Cycling has been swept up in a technological revolution since Team Sky came upon the scene in 2010. The Sky setup brought lessons learnt from the push for British gold medals on the track at the 2012 London Olympics, with a wealth of funds available to push science to the next level within the sport.

Rogers became part of the Sky setup in 2011 and played a key role in the team's first Tour de France victory with Bradley Wiggins. The Australian was able to see first hand the new data-driven methods of the British team.

"The evolution of the scientific side of things has been quite impressive and isn't a side of things that get's talked about a lot," said Rogers. "From a mathematical side we now know the numbers that it takes to win the Tour de France. 

"The last week, the big mountain stages you need to be able to average a certain amount of watts per kilo. When we knew what the requirements were, the sports physiologists were able to craft sessions and tailor-made training programs for the riders to be able to maintain that level for a certain amount of time."

"With that goal in mind I think the sport has gone from a sticky tape and scissors approach to this aggressive sports science methodology."

Sky first really stamped their dominance on the sport in 2012, where they topped off a brilliant season with the best and second-best riders overall at the Tour de France as well as six stage victories. Rogers played the role of team captain during the race, shepherding around the relatively new team.

It wasn't long before the value of the different approach being taken by the British squad was being realised by teams across the peloton.

"I suppose some of the riders from Sky started diffusing those ideas when they moved to other teams," said Rogers. "While those teams may not have copied those ideas immediately, that style of training caught on over the next few years.

"Fast-forward to now and all the top teams have that sort of style, maybe not the exact regime that Sky used, but a more rigorous structure based around scientific observations."

The other big change came from the culture and languages within the peloton, with English-speaking riders and teams going from being the exception to the new normal.

"When I first went into the pro ranks I never imagined that within the next ten years there would be such a shift in the culture of the peloton," said Rogers. "Not only in the language that was spoken but the composition of teams as well. Traditionally, most of the teams were based around those big countries in cycling.

"Italy and Spain were dominant, with some French and Belgian teams as well. These days American teams, UK teams, Australian... no one really expected it to shift so fast. Go back 15 years and Italy had 5 or 6 teams in the top tier, now they don't have one. Spain as well had a bunch of teams, now they just have one and all their early season races are gone and replaced with events like the Tour Down Under and the Middle East races."

It was a marked shift for the Griffith-born youngster who went to Europe as one of a select few riders from Australia, and finished as a veteran of the sport in a peloton where Australians are regularly counted amongst the best, with 32 riders contracted at the highest level of the sport in 2019. 

"I did enjoy that globalisation of cycling," said Rogers. "For when it was a more European-centralised sport I did enjoy that, I learned a few languages and that's something that I'll always hang onto. But I very much enjoyed not being the odd one out at the table, you have a lot better understanding and a better time."

Rogers will be remembered in cycling circles as not only one of the top riders of his generation, but also one of those to really make the sport popular within Australia and pave the way for future generations.