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Haga’s season has perfect end after nightmare start

Chad Haga’s 2016 season started off as a nightmare, but it ended on a career high. The Texan went from having surgery and nearly 100 stitches in his face and neck to capping his best pro season yet.

On January 23, 2016, Haga and five of his Giant – Alpecin teammates were struck head-on by an errant motorist on the wrong side of the road along Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Ten months later, the all-rounder surpassed even his own expectations, completing two grand tours and racing in his first elite men’s world championships, both firsts. And to cap it all off, he got married at the end of October. What a season it’s been for the fifth-year pro.

“It’s kind of surreal to be here after how this season has gone,” Haga told VeloNews last month ahead of his wedding. “At the start of the year, I didn’t think I would get to do a grand tour, so to do two, that’s the first time I’ve done that. … And I get married in two weeks, and then we have a honeymoon in Hawaii. That’s the best off-season present I could have.”

The 28-year-old indeed has plenty to be grateful for going into the end-of-season respite. Not only is he enjoying a honeymoon in Hawaii, he has had a near-complete recovery from the horrific crash. Despite some potentially worrying injuries immediately after the crash, he was able to return to racing at Critérium International in late March. He admits he feels some lingering effects from the crash, but they have not stopped him from performing at a high level on the bike.

“My right nostril doesn’t work so well. I don’t have complete feeling in my upper right jaw, that is still a little bit numb,” he said. “On the bike, nothing affects me anymore.”

In May, he started and finished his first Giro d’Italia, and then stepped up to help the team at the Vuelta a España, completing his fourth-career grand tour, with eighth in stage 4 as part of a breakaway effort. To finish it all off, he raced his first elite men’s world championship in Qatar, arriving early to acclimate to the heat and also race in the WorldTour team time trial.

“To still have good legs in October is just icing on the cake,” he said. “This is my first race with the national team, and I really enjoyed it.”

Despite some physical scarring — which he described in a rider journal for VeloNews — Haga insists that he was able to push through what could have been a psychological barrier by quickly returning to the bike. By returning his focus to racing as soon as he could, he was able to push any potential fears quickly behind him.

“I don’t have nightmares from it,” he said. “I have no more memories than from the first day of the crash.”

With one more year left on his contract with Giant – Alpecin, a grateful Haga is looking forward to what he hopes is an incident-free and successful racing season for 2017. There are still some possible legal ramifications from the crash, so he is not able to speak about certain aspects of the incident. Valuable lessons were taken from what was a horrific accident for everyone involved.

“As hard as things get, I know I can still get through it,” he said. “If I can have a normal season next year, things should go pretty well.”

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