Culture

Chad Haga Journal: Welcome to the WorldTour

Haga takes his licks in Tirreno-Adriatico, where he faced stiff competition in the time trials and brutal weather in the mountains

Ask a pro about their race schedule and they’ll usually preface the answer with a phrase like, “at the moment I’m scheduled for …” or, “I’m penciled in to race …” because things can change on a dime in this sport.

It’s been a particularly rough spring with injuries and illnesses. Throughout the peloton it seems that guys are falling ill or just falling off their bikes. That’s why teams have deep rosters, though, as sometimes a race like Tirreno-Adriatico must go on without the likes of Marcel Kittel and Chris Froome.

I personally have suffered from the flu and two bouts of stomach bugs this year, and was recently sent flipping over a hedge after a crazy wind gust drove me into the ditch on a training ride. The unpredictability of the sport is why, of the 21 race days I’ve already accumulated, only 13 of them were on my schedule at the start of the year.

Tobias Ludvigsson’s broken wrist resulted in my start at Tirreno instead of Pais Vasco.

I was excited for the race. Two days on my time trial bike, whether team or individual efforts, will always keep me motivated. Then there were the sprint opportunities and climbing days, and possibilities for breakaways. The weather looked good, but forecasts should only be trusted as far as you can throw them … and I have weak arms.

I thought the change from a team time trial to individual because of weather damage was silly until I arrived in Camaiore and saw many of the trees that shaded my training rides last year now only served as obstacles in the road. I was a bit of a prologue specialist in the U.S., so I had high hopes for the first stage. Then I was reminded that the WorldTour is the sport’s pinnacle, and perhaps I still have work to do [Haga was 40th -Ed.].

It’s never nice to find your sprinter on the ground in the finish after working so hard, but unfortunately, it came to that at the end of stage 2, and that’s racing. Mechanicals happen, and mechanicals in chaotic sprints have bloody consequences. Thankfully Luka [Mezgec] is a tough guy and was back at it the next day.

On Stage 3, I was given the green light to try a breakaway, so I attacked at kilometer zero. Eventually, our time gap went out to over 14 minutes. Unfortunately, ours was not to be the 1-in-100 breaks that succeed, but I had fun out front anyway. Perhaps the biggest challenge of my day was providing a sample for anti-doping after nearly five hours trying to outrun Tinkoff-Saxo in my longest-ever breakaway.

After a 226-kilometer day of climbing and rolling terrain that punished my tired legs, we faced stage 5, the queen stage. We were promised rain at the feed zone and snow at the finish. All it takes is a bad weather forecast for a bike race to become a Hollywood red-carpet affair, with, “What are you wearing?” echoing off the bus windows, our faces pressed against the glass to see the choices our competitors had made.

Sometimes you’re racing your bike, and sometimes you’re just on a fast group ride. The queen stage was definitely the latter for me (and a lot of other guys).

We started climbing, knowing the rain would become snow eventually. How fitting that stuck in my head that day was the most foreboding symphony ever? You know, the one that goes, “dun dun dun DUNNNN, DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNN …” [Beethoven’s fifth –Ed.]

At 4km to go, huge fluffy snowflakes started sticking to our glasses and helmets. Two kilometers later, it was sticking to the road as the race became a new kind of Strade Bianche. Thankfully the conditions held out long enough for the guys who were really racing, as the surface was hardly race-able when our gruppetto finished 20 minutes later, unable to climb out of the saddle because our tires were slipping. A race moto had to be pushed out of the way after stopping ahead of us because he could do nothing more than fling snow at us.

The weather debate rages on, and it certainly is tricky and full of nuances.

Unfortunately, a moment’s inattention cost Simon Geschke a collarbone earlier in the stage and we were down a teammate. We were happy to take care of him at dinner that night — sometimes teamwork extends beyond the race.

After some wise clothing choices on the snowy stage, I got cocky (maybe I was just optimistic?) and slightly under-dressed the following day. The stage contained a 45km descent, and that’s about the coldest I’ve ever been on a bike. I explained to Tyler Farrar early in the stage that, “even days like this are better than a desk job,” but when he checked in an hour later, I was less resolute.

My saving grace was a bottle of hot tea from the team car. Our director warned us, “Be careful that you don’t burn your mouth, it’s really hot!”

“I hope it’s so hot that I don’t taste anything for a week” was all I could think.

My head was eager for the final time trial, but I had left my legs behind on one of the 850 kilometers we’d covered over the last four days. With another disappointing result [60th place -Ed.], there was nothing left to do but grab some pizza and put my legs up on the bus as I settled in for the drive across Italy. In the wake of Simon’s broken collarbone, I’ll be starting my first monument on Sunday at Milano-Sanremo in support of race favorite John Degenkolb. I’ve grown accustomed to five- and six-hour stages, so that seventh hour should be a walk in the park.

In my next journal, I’ll likely be reevaluating that last statement. Dun dun dun DUNNNNN.