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Haga’s steady hand helped Dumoulin win Giro

No rest for the weary. After racing the Giro d’Italia, Sunweb’s Chad Haga is back in the saddle, lining up in the eight-day Critérium du Dauphiné, one of the hardest one-week races on the calendar.

Haga was a key helper in Tom Dumoulin’s historic victory, a first for a Dutch rider in the Giro. Haga’s steady performance in the decisive moments wasn’t a surprise to Sunweb brass. They tapped him earlier this season to be one of Dumoulin’s important allies in the Giro.

“Chad is one of those guys who is the backbone of the team,” said Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek. “He is there every day. He is a very dedicated team rider. He is also very intelligent, maybe not the most outspoken person, but he is a guy who can throw in a joke when it’s needed. He brings stability to the team.”

The 28-year-old Texan, in his fourth season with Sunweb, stepped up during the Giro. When top climber Wilco Kelderman crashed out in stage 9, Haga upped his game to provide Dumoulin pivotal help in the Giro’s hardest mountains. Laurens ten Dam was often the last man for Dumoulin on the climbs, but Haga was a familiar and welcome presence for the Dutchman.

“We also know that Chad can climb really well,” Visbeek said. “Maybe not over three Stelvios in a row, but he can do a hell of a job on most of the climbs. Every GC team would like to have him on their team.”

This Giro marked a coming of age in many ways for Haga. He survived a harrowing training crash with several of his teammates in January 2016. Always a loyal teammate, Haga had a chance to show what he can do in a grand tour’s most important skirmishes.

“We know that we have a guy who can win if we do everything right,” Haga said of Dumoulin. “That gives you extra motivation to go even deeper.”

Haga came to the fore in the critical final week. He helped Dumoulin fend off attacks from all sides. In stage 17, Haga helped drag in the main bunch behind a winning breakaway to keep Dumoulin’s pink jersey safe. The next day, he fought over the Dolomites to regain contact with the lead bunch to give Dumoulin a few more pulls on the road to Ortisei, a decisive day in Dumoulin’s defense.

A few suggested that Dumoulin was often isolated, but Visbeek countered that the Giro was so hard that it was rare to see any of the top GC favorites with teammates in the decisive battles of the race.

“We bought a strong team to protect Tom,” Visbeek said. “Chad was there every time we expected him to be. We are very happy with how he supported the team.”

Haga also saw some unexpected TV time when he led the main pack over the Mortirolo in the fateful stage 16, the same stage that Dumoulin nearly lost the race with an emergency bathroom stop at the base of the Stelvio. Earlier in the stage, Haga was pulling over the Mortirolo, and bunny-hopped a sector of the descent near the top of the climb.

“Yeah, that was me,” Haga said with a laugh. “I saw a hump on the road, I went ‘wee!’ It was fast, but it was safe there to do it. People made a big deal of it. It was only later realized it was the TV motorbike in front of me. I was not going to take risks with Tom and the rest of the peloton.”

So what’s next for Haga? He’s developing into an experienced and strong helper. With Dumoulin poised to challenge for grand tours in the next few years, he will continue to grow into that role. Haga joined Dumoulin in altitude camps this spring. The pair have grown close.

Impressed with his steady presence, Visbeek also said there could be room for Haga to stretch his wings in select races.

“On the WorldTour and grand tour level, he is a super-domestique for us,” Visbeek said. “I also see races for him to win. He can climb well and he also has a good time trial, so guys like that can also win. It has to be in the right moment, especially for the one-week stage races, it would not surprise me to see Chad pick up a good result in the very near future.”

Haga will take a well-deserved break after the Dauphiné. He will likely be back to supporting Dumoulin if the Dutchman decides to challenge for the Vuelta a España.

“Either can be good. If I have the legs, I can be happy to try something for myself,” he said. “I enjoy this, working for a leader, to be part of something so spectacular.”

Dumoulin’s spectacular victory could be just the first of many and Haga has a front-row seat.

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