PEZ Talk: Sunweb’s Chad Haga
Rider Interview: Early in 2016 it looked like the pro career of Chad Haga would end due to a collision with a dangerously driven car. Since then he has made a full recovery and ridden two Grand Tours, a World championships and a clutch of other top races. But has the incident left more than physical scars? Ed Hood spoke to Chad to get an up-date on his recovery and the future.
It’s a little over a year ago since Chad Haga, Warren Barguil, John Degenkolb, Fredrik Ludvigsson, Ramon Sinkeldam and Max Walscheid of the Giant-Alpecin were on a Saturday afternoon training ride in Spain when, in the blink of an eye all six ended up on the deck – and shortly thereafter, hospital. A car, driven by an ex-pat Englishwoman turned onto the road the Giant men were riding along – but on the wrong side, colliding head on with the riders. Degenkolb almost lost a finger and Haga ended up with 96 stitches – ‘high time we see how Chad is doing’ we thought to ourselves at PEZ?
PEZ: Are you still based in Girona, Chad – have you had any of that crazy bad weather Spain has endured?
Chad Haga: Yes, I’m again in Girona for the 2017 season. I’ve been in and out for training camps, but aside for some rain and some windy days, it hasn’t been too bad here.
PEZ: You’ll be tired talking about it – but have all the ‘after effects’ of the crash faded?
As a cyclist, yes, the effects have all been left behind. In everyday life, though, there are still a few nagging reminders.
PEZ: What was the ‘turning point’ in your recuperation?
The moment I decided that I would make a full return to racing (still in the Intensive Care Unit), it became a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if’. Bike racing was my job, so I had nothing to distract me from making daily progress.
PEZ: Is there a legal process on-going about the incident?
It’s normal for legal proceedings to follow such an incident, but I can’t comment on them at the moment.
PEZ: Has the crash affected the way you ride when training?
Absolutely. I try to be in less of a hurry when in heavy traffic, and on descents I am much more discerning when it comes to risks. When the roads aren’t closed, I’m not testing my tires or my skills.
PEZ: You were married over the winter – the Sports Directors will be happy, they like a man to have a settled home life, don’t they?
Yes! Even a long ride is only six hours out of the day, so it’s important that life at home be fulfilling and something to look forward to. Now returning from camps and races feels like going home, rather than just a season-long bike trip abroad like the last few years.
PEZ: Hawaii on honeymoon – that must have been cool?
Hawaii is amazing, and my impending return to training was the furthest thing from my mind as we had so much fun. I did look up a former teammate, Alex Candelario, who now runs a cycle-touring company called Big Island Bike Tours. Kate likes to ride and wanted an epic adventure, so we borrowed a couple of bikes to ride Mauna Loa, a 17-mile ribbon of perfect tarmac climbing through lava fields up to the observatory at 11,000 feet.
PEZ: You must be content with season 2016 given how it began?
I finished the season happy with what I was able to accomplish, which I think was significant in its own right, never mind how it began. I completed two Grand Tours in a single year which is something I’d never done before, and performed well in both of them, as well as good rides in other races, too.
That first win still eludes me, so that hunger is still growing.
PEZ: You rode the Giro and Vuelta – a big workload. . .
I feel like each Grand Tour I ride helps me to close the gap between myself and guys who have been racing since they were kids. I’m relatively lacking in lifetime miles, and I’m not a huge natural talent, so steady progress is the name of the game, and the Grand Tours seem to accelerate that progress in my experience. To complete both those races without being completely ruined shows the progress that I’ve made in the last few years, I think.
PEZ: How were those Worlds out in the desert?
That was a very dissatisfying trip for me. Following the Vuelta and a week in Qatar ahead of Worlds, I felt really good in the heat, but had been too afraid of over-doing it with intensity after such a heavy season. In the end, I think I under-trained a bit and my legs weren’t as sharp as I’d hoped. On top of that, I had a mechanical right at the start of the TTT, which set things off on the wrong foot. In the road race, I was taken down in a needless crash in the relaxed portion of the race (headwind) and then failed to make the split in the crosswind. The fight for position going into that turn was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, where the name of the game was apparently “see who can make the most desperate maneuver”.
PEZ: How has the team’s change of sponsor affected things?
We have a different logo on the jersey and different shampoo in the bus showers. Ha!
But seriously, it’s the same team. I’m excited to have Sunweb as a sponsor, they’re very enthusiastic and that’s always great to see as a rider.
PEZ: Any new gear or ‘tweaks’ to tell the equipment nerds about?
We’ve changed power meters to Shimano this year, but personally the only thing that’s changed is that I swapped to narrower handlebars, opting for 40cm this year. It felt natural from the first ride, so I’ll stick with it! Narrower is aero-er, and maybe I can fit into tighter gaps in the bunch…
PEZ: Michael Matthews has joined you – how has that affected the dynamic of the team?
Bling is a fun guy, and if racing with him is as easy as hanging out at camp, it should be a good year!
PEZ: How’s your program for 2017? is le Tour possible?
My big focus this year will be the Giro in support of Tom Dumoulin, so I don’t think you’ll be seeing me in France in July.
PEZ: 2017 will be a success if. . ?
If I’m a better bike racer at the end of the year than I am now, I’ll consider it a success.
Be that fitness or tactical savviness or my abilities as a domestique, I expect to continue improving…
# Thanks to Chad for his time, he starts in the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol tomorrow (Wednesday 15th February) and we hope to catch up with him later in the season. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,400 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.