“Normally he is working hard for the leaders,” Campenaerts said. “So I knew a few days ago he could be trouble.”
Haga, 30, earned a spot in the “hot seat” Sunday in the final stage of the Giro d’Italia that surprised more than a few in the bunch. Campenaerts started as the pre-stage favorite but Haga knocked him back by four seconds to take the virtual lead.
“I normally fly under the radar. I relish being the underdog. I was not surprised to go fast today,” Haga said. “I dug a little deeper to prove the doubters wrongs.”
Haga stopped the clock in the 17km time trial in 22 minutes, 7 seconds. With rider after rider coming through, Haga was nervously watching the live feed.
“This is new for me,” Haga said, with his legs twitching. “I’ve never been in the hot seat before.”
Tom Dumoulin’s early exit from the Giro in the first week changed everything for Sunweb. Haga came to the Giro to try to help his teammate win his second pink jersey in three years.
“Everything changed for us after Tom was forced to leave,” Haga said. “We don’t get down and we keep looking forward, and we try to find new opportunities.”
Haga summed up the odds. In a Giro laden with big mountains, he knew his chances of winning out of a breakaway in the Dolomites was unlikely.
His best chance lay in the final-day, 17km time trial around Verona. Haga only got his first glimpse of the course in the morning. Haga’s popped for some big TT rides before, including sixth in the second time trial of this Giro in San Marino.
“I spent the morning scouring Google “street view” and studied every corner so I could go at the recon pretty fast to test the corners,” he said. “I paced myself well. It helped to have Campenaerts ahead of me so I could know the splits.”
After surviving a harrowing training crash in 2016 and enduring the death of his father, who helped him get his start in cycling, the victory had great emotional value.
“I thought of my father throughout this race,” Haga said. “This would be so huge to pay everyone back if I could win today.”
“The training crash in 2016, it took a lot of work to come back, not only physically, but the mental recovery. It was hard to not be scared all the time, to go into gaps, and it took more time, but I managed to do so,” said Haga after the stage.
Haga was still waiting. The Giro “bigs” were still to come.