Giro d'Italia
Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin) was in his element,...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: Bike racing at its finest

Haga has a fruitful day in the breakaway, riding with his head on a difficult, hilly day of racing in Italy

After my efforts in yesterday’s stage, the smart choice was to stay in the wheels on stage 4 and take things as easy as possible. And I had every intention of doing so. Really. But then the breakaway option was put on the table again during our tactical meeting. And then I pinned my numbers on my sprint-suit instead of a normal jersey. By that point, the wheels were already in motion.

The difference today, however, was that I was resolved to only jump in the break if it was smart to do so. I decided that I would not follow a single move until halfway up the opening climb at the earliest, and even then only if it looked really good. I would also do as little as possible in the break.

In short, I was going to race with my head as well as my legs today.

The race from Chiavari to La Spezia started really fast, and I just floated in the middle of the bunch during the flat opening kilometers. As the road started to climb, I slowly surfed my way toward the front as the attacks continued, still ambivalent about using energy in a break. Suddenly, I was at the front, the road was flattening at the halfway point of the climb, Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana were fanning across the road as a big group slowly pulled away, and there was that little gap on the outside.

In that split second, I decided that the remaining 17 stages didn’t matter; the bike race was in front of me, and I came to race. The same as yesterday, I was in a break of 27 riders, but this time I had used exactly one match to get there. I was quite proud of myself, to be honest.

As the gap swelled to over 10 minutes, it was really looking like we might go the distance, but the size of the group was unsettling. We simply could not work well together, but as the only member of my team present, I had to be very selective about which moves I followed.

Over the innumerable undulations in the course profile, the breakaway continued to attack itself like a swarm of piranhas. I followed the big moves on the climbs; on descents I either pushed the pace at the front to cause splits behind, or I bridged across gaps that had opened on the climb. I was in the zone today, having so much fun when the road plunged. I had a head start on a few climbs today thanks to the descents, but my legs needed just a little bit more oomph to make the split on the toughest climb of the day.

My chase group was caught by the remnants of the field just before the first descent into La Spezia, and I was towed into the base of the final climb by Astana, just a couple of minutes behind my former breakaway companions. I didn’t have enough left to match the leaders’ pace, but my efforts netted me a top-30 on a brutally tough stage, and a smile at the team bus. Today was bike racing at its finest, and I had a blast.

Only one thing is certain: I will not be in the break tomorrow. With all the muscle-flexing of Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana, a breakaway on an uphill finish sounds like a bad idea. But then again, maybe they want to take it a bit easier and give the little guys a chance. I already know the second half of the stage from my training rides last year. …

Hmm, where’d I put my sprint-suit?