Chad Haga plays piano in the evening, between stages at the Dubai Tour, tinkling away in the lobby until the staff asks him to stop. The piano is not actually for playing, they say.
He has a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M. He’s a vocal proponent of the Oxford comma. He’s shy, as so many grammar aficionados are, preferring to train alone with his thoughts or a podcast. Freakonomics and the TED Radio Hour are just the ticket, he says, for a long spin through foothills of the Pyrenees.
Haga is not a typical professional bike racer.
The Giant-Alpecin rider — a tall man at six-foot-three, a good time trialist and a rising star — is one of three Texans who have made the leap to the WorldTour with Giant-Alpecin. VeloNews caught up with the quirky 26-year-old in Dubai, just as his second WorldTour season was gearing up.
When making the transition from the national level to racing at the WorldTour level, one must make many adjustments — not only physically, but also mentally. When asked what he liked best about racing at the top level, Haga was matter-of-fact. “Just knowing that you’re racing against the very best all the time,” is motivation, he said. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, well there’s Nibali; there’s Cavendish, and Tony Martin is on the front. Here’s the stage. Time to perform.” His goal: Beat them, even occasionally, as proof they don’t exist on some unattainable higher plane.
With three pro Texans — Haga, Lawson Craddock, and Caleb Fairly — all wearing the same jersey, we were curious where Haga felt he fit in, and what the team had in mind for him this season.
He spoke to his interest in doing another grand tour this year. He raced and finished the Vuelta a España in 2014, highlighted by a sixth in the opening team time trial.
“I definitely want to go somewhere and do another three-week race, because that was incredible. I had really good legs at the end of it, and the way I came out of it was mind-boggling, so I’m excited to experience that again.”
For a rider so new to the game, protected status can be an intimidating prospect. “It forces you to really focus and perform as well as you can because I know they’re giving their effort, so it’s time for me to contribute my result.”
“I think at Romandie might be a possibility for a GC shot,” he said. “There’s a time trial there, I’m not so familiar with the race because I’ve never done it. We’ll just see what happens when I show up.”
However, with his hunger for learning, it’s likely that Haga would do his homework to be completely prepared, if he got the call to go to Switzerland. The soft-spoken rider usually prefers to train alone and let his brain be the DJ.
“Most of the time these days I’m listening to podcasts, just learning the whole time. I’ve heard all my music, so I don’t need to hear that for the 7,000th time. Just stuff you should know, Freakonomics, TED Radio Hour,” he said.
Not only does Haga like to learn new things while out training, but he also likes to experience new things in terms of racing. He’s done well at the Tour of California, finishing 10th overall in 2013, but the Giro may be on the horizon this year. Fellow American Fairly is on Giant’s roster for the Italian race.
“I loved California. I’ve done that race twice now, and enjoyed it a lot both times. I’d love to go back, but if they wanted to send me to the Giro, there’s no way I’d turn that down. There are still so many races I haven’t done yet that I want to do,” he said. “Let’s go somewhere new. So, fingers crossed.”
Caley Fretz contributed reporting to this story.