Chad Haga Journal: Racing the trifecta
American Chad Haga recaps the demanding Giro d'Italia and looks ahead to his next challenge, the Critérium du Dauphiné.
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Last year, I raced the Tour of Romangirophine, as I called it. Never heard of it? Not many guys were brave (or crazy) enough to try it, so it didn’t get much attention. This contrived race is, of course, the trifecta of Romandie, Giro, and Dauphine — it’s simply too much, to finish the Giro on your knees and then crawl into a race used by Tour de France contenders as preparation. I couldn’t believe I finished it, and immediately resolved to never do it again.
Thinking back to how I finished last year’s Giro and comparing it to this year, I’m pleased. I would say that I performed better in 2015’s edition, but I also started that block of racing after a rest period, and came into it much fresher. This time around, my foot has had the pedal pinned to the floor since the start of February — my longest rest was the few days between Romandie and the Giro — and my body is crying for a break. Instead of starting this block of races fresh, I started it on the back of the Ardennes classics, on the back of the most intense months of training of my career.
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What blows my mind, however, is that I was able to write ELEVEN blogs during the Giro last year. I had aspirations of doing the same this time around, but those quickly fell by the wayside. I would settle for posts on the rest days. I never wrote them. There are a few reasons for this, the largest of which is time: I was a single man last year and spent 100 percent less time on the phone, and frankly I value those conversations over rider journals. In all honesty, I still had the time to write, but mentally I couldn’t muster the energy to even begin.
My first grand tour taught me — and the two since have confirmed — that the greatest physical test this sport offers is dwarfed only by the mental test attached to it, and this lap of Italy came close to breaking me a couple of times.
My last update was on the first of three rest days, after we transferred to Italy. Things were great — Tom was within spitting distance of pink (he would reclaim it the next day), and I had some ripping form coming on. The only question was how long it would last, since I lacked the racing days that give such form stability. I was right about the form, as I set power records daily in the early Italian stages, and then went right over the edge just as quickly.
As the race was exploding on an uncategorized climb at the start of stage 8, my legs had a feeling that I’ve only experienced in the closing days of grand tours, and I actually had the thought, “I might not finish this Giro.” I was determined to go down swinging, and spent everything I had left in the Chianti time trial, ending up with a top-20 finish thanks to finicky weather that played in my favor. Mercifully, the rest day came at the perfect moment and I was able to recover well for the last two weeks. Not fully, mind you, but well.
The last 12 stages were endlessly frustrating for me. I was encouraged that the plateau my legs had settled on gave me no difficulties to finish each day, but I was also not sharp enough to accomplish much. I would have been perfect in a breakaway but the effort to get there proved to be just that tiny bit too much. The frustration was compounded by my own line of personal questions — I really did put January’s crash behind me with my performance in the opening time trial, and was unwilling to admit that it might be the reason behind my lackluster performance. Such a push for fitness is bound to make one tired, but I’m also tired of excuses and wanted results.
With the mental tiredness that accompanies weeks of racing, I also had homework each day in the form of rehab for my shoulder. The whiplash from January’s crash trained in some muscle compensations that didn’t seem like an issue until I struggled to lift a musette bag over my head, and the team physiotherapist took the opportunity to work with me. The exercises require very little physical effort, instead demanding complete focus to utilize a muscle I didn’t even know I had until recently. All the mental sweat that would have been poured into journals was instead channeled to stretching an inner tube a few inches in the time between massage and dinner.
On the positive side, it’s a team sport and we had a great three weeks, achieving several top-10 placings, a smattering of podiums, bookend victories, and — above all — six stages with the maglia rosa. We definitely had cause for celebration in Torino Sunday night!
After a few days of rest, I’m continuing my quest to fit half a season of racing into two months. My resolution not to race Romangirophine again? I threw it away in exchange for six weeks at home afterward. And besides, I’m a glutton for punishment, even upping the ante: I think I’ll call it the Amstelechiege Romangirophine. Kids, don’t try this at home.