JJ Haedo back at the races, behind the wheel

After retiring from professional racing last year, JJ Haedo has made a quick transition to be a a part-time assistant director with Jamis.

ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — Juan Jose (JJ) Haedo last pedaled competitively slightly more than a year ago. He won a stage of the GP de Saguenay in Canada in June and a month later ended his career with an unceremonious DNF in the stage 5 circuit race at the Cascade Cycling Classic.

The finale to Haedo’s 12 years in the peloton was ironic. It was a microcosm of a career that resulted in a several dozen victories in the United States and Europe. But it was also a pro tenure of unfulfilled, higher expectations.

Following six years on the WorldTour that produced 21 wins from 2007-2012, Haedo finished his career with two seasons at Jamis-Hagens Berman. The team now employs him as a part-time assistant director, driver, and consultant to director Sebastian Alexandre.

Sebastian Haedo, JJ Heado’s younger brother by two years, is competing in his first year with the team. The younger Haedo is still winning races while also riding in a team captain’s role.

“I’ve had some hard feelings when I see the guys suffering,” said JJ Haedo, who joined the team for the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge. “It’s still too fresh for me. I know exactly what they are feeling. It wasn’t that long ago when I felt the same things. But I try. If anyone needs help, I try to give them encouragement. I know what they are going through.

“More than anything, I am helping Sebastian with tactics. It’s little things that don’t make a huge difference. But it’s little details that maybe you see racing in Europe that can help. You don’t have to make a huge thing about it. It’s just little things that can help keep the team happy and feel like you’re contributing.”

Haedo won nearly a dozen races in the his first three pro seasons. But his prominence greatly expanded with five stage wins in the Tour of California and three stage wins in the Tour of Georgia during a three-year span beginning in 2005. He signed with CSC (later Saxo Bank) in 2007 and refocused his career in Europe. It didn’t begin well.

“The first year was really hard, mentally it was really hard,” said Haedo. “Physically, you prepare. But mentally, it’s hard because you’re getting dropped in races when you’re not used to getting dropped. I remember the first half of the year was so hard that leading up to races like in Philadelphia I was like, ‘OK, I need a month break.’ The distances were longer in Europe. Here in the U.S. you had three major stages. But over there, you had races on every holiday, on every weekend. It was really tough.”

“But I was lucky enough to win some races, so that was motivating. I think I was with the right team to help me with my development, to develop myself to get better and better. But it was really hard mentally going to Europe alone.”

Haedo withdrew from the Giro d’Italia after 10 stages in 2007. He had seven early-season wins around the world and two top-10s in the 2008 Vuelta a España, but he withdrew during stage 15. He finished the 2009 Giro, 2010 Vuelta, and a career-highlight stage win in the 2011 Vuelta. He had four top-10 stage finishes and completed the 2012 Tour de France.

But Haedo was then faced by cycling’s ever-present sponsorship woes and was without a European contract for the 2013 season. He returned the United States for the final two seasons of his career.

“It was a combination of things; For me, year after year, you just start to lose a bit of the motivation,” Haedo said of his retirement. “You try to find it in different ways and when it doesn’t work, I think for me it was smart to say, ‘OK that’s it. I had fun. I raced hard.’ I knew my body was still at the top level. But my head was where I couldn’t train at the level I should.”

The elder Haedo lives in his hometown of Chascomus, Argentina, a small city south of Buenos Aires. The Haedo brothers’ father was a well-known Argentinean cyclist and JJ remains a popular athlete in the city where he lives with his wife. He prefers to spend time fishing and hunting to riding his bike.

“No, not much,” said Haedo about his time on the bike. “To be honest, I decide now when I want to ride. I stopped because I didn’t want to ride anymore. Some days, I go out with friends, but it’s not like I wake up and think ‘It’s a nice day for riding. I go can go out with the guys. But I don’t wake us saying, ‘It’s a good day for a three-hour ride because it’s a nice outside.'”