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PEZ Talk: Vuelta Debutant Chad Haga

Rider Interview: Chad Haga went from competing in the US to a WorldTour rider in the season’s hardest Grand Tour in the matter of a year. A steep learning curve you might say, but Chad took it all in his stride. Ed Hood asked him all about his Vuelta baptism of fire.

What a difference a year makes.

In September 2013 Giant’s young American, Chad Haga was pedaling across the golden Prairies of Alberta; September 2014 however saw him in the green hills of Asturias and Galicia in his first Grand Tour – la Vuelta.

A pro with Optum-Kelly since 2011, his first big results came in his neo pro year with a win in the prologue of the Mount Hood Classic and third on GC in the Tour of Elk Grove. Season 2013 saw him take the prologue of The Cascades stage race – but it was 2014 when the young man’s palmarés really exploded.

He was third overall in the McLane Pacific stage race; second on GC in the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal; took a stage and was second on GC in the Redlands stage race; won the Joe Martin stage race; was 10th on GC in the Tour of California; third in the Cascades stage race and won the prologue in the Elk Grove stage race before finishing sixth in the Tour of Alberta.

Tour of Utah 2013A fresh faced Chad Haga in the Tour of Utah 2013

Giant have thrown him in at the deep end, this year – the Etoile de Besseges, Three Days of West Flanders, Tour of Catalonia, Circuit de la Sarthe, Tour of California, Tour of Belgium, Dauphine and Tour of Burgos have all rolled beneath his wheels. A strong fourth in the individual TT in Burgos confirmed that he was ready for his toughest job to date – la Vuelta.

Haga finished the race in 73rd spot as part of a Giant squad which enjoyed a brilliant Vuelta, sixth in the opening TTT they went on to take four stage wins and the green points jersey with John Degenkolb and place young French rider Warren Barguil in the top 10 on GC despite both men suffering bad crashes during the race. Indeed, Degenkolb had to be admitted to be hospital upon his return to Germany after the Vuelta as result of his wounds becoming infected.

A great race for the men in black and white and a tough but successful baptism of fire for Haga in what Adam Hansen told us was the toughest Grand Tour of the year.

PEZ: Congratulations on the Vuelta, Chad – it must be good to be home?
Yeah, back in Lucca here in Tuscany, I have a nice apartment inside the city walls, which I share with Garmin’s Ben King, but he’s gone home to the States, his programme is finished for this season.

PEZ: What treat did you award yourself when you got home?
The last week of the Vuelta I had pizza in mind – that and some cake . . .

PEZ: What was the toughest climb of the race?
Ancares, Stage 20; that climb was tough – there was a big gruppetto but even that exploded. I rode 34 x 28 most of the race but that day I was on 39 x 32 but I wished I’d used a 36 x 32 instead!

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 20That Ancares climb

PEZ: What’s it like being part of John Degenkolb’s lead out?
A lot depends on the parcours; in the Vuelta the racing starts at kilometre zero – but once a safe and manageable break has established then we’ll ride to control it or at least help the other teams who are riding on the front. Our job is to get John to the finish with his legs as fresh as possible – for instance, make sure he’s at the front for the climbs so he can afford to slide back. At the team meeting in the bus in the morning we’ll agree what the ideal plan is for the final lead out – but on the road you have to evaluate how close to that ideal you are then improvise, if needs be . . .

PEZ: Did you miss the rain in the final time trial?
I was sitting in the start house when it started; ‘this sucks!’ I said to myself. All of the corners on that course were pretty tricky with a lot of them off camber – it wasn’t a good course to ride in the wet. My number one priority was to finish and it looked to me as if there was a truce with GC guys; ‘let’s not risk anything – we’ll all ride at 80% guys.’

PEZ: Did Team Giant Shimano get a chance to savour their success?
Yeah, we had a celebration dinner on Sunday night with all the staff – we tried to soak in what we’d achieved – four stage wins, the green jersey, a top ten and the team’s best ever TTT finish. The only thing was that I didn’t get to bed until 02:00 am and was up again to catch my flight at 05:00 am on Monday.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 17The Degenkolb lead-out on the succeesful stage to A Coruña

PEZ: On the subject of weight, how did you come out of the race?
I only weighed myself once during the race then I weighed myself yesterday; I was shocked at how heavy I was – too much food! It’ll take a day or two to process it all, I guess,

PEZ: What was your toughest moment of the race?
Stage 20 was mentally the toughest day for me, it was a hard start then I had a mechanical and then Warren got caught in a split so I had to help get him back – then it split again. I spent the whole day chasing and was in a bad place in my mind but finally I managed to get with a group.

The Valdelinares stage which Anacona won was very tough, too – and so too was the second stage which Bouhanni won, Stage Seven where it fractured in the wind. Both days we were on the gas all day.

Amgen Tour of California 2014 stage 7Taking it all in his stride

PEZ: I believe that the first hours were pretty savage on every stage this year?
Everyone thinks they have a chance of getting in the break and with the break managing to stay away some days that encourages attacks to go all the time ‘til the right combination goes. With us having Warren Barguil up there on GC we had to keep a close watch on who goes up the road.

PEZ: What about the heat?
It’s hard to pick out which was the hottest day – but there were certainly a couple of days when it was stifling. 
You just have to drink as much as you can and keep going back to the team car for ice socks for our necks.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 13Another hot day over at la Vuelta

PEZ: What’s next for you?
I’ll go for a spin tomorrow (Wednesday) and I may be riding the GP Isbergues on the 21st but I’m also down as reserve for the TTT at the Worlds. So whichever it is – I’ll be racing again, soon. (It’s confirmed Chad will ride the Worlds TTT).

PEZ: What lessons do you take away from the race?
Maybe the biggest one is how incredible the top riders are and just how quick they can go up mountains. From a personal perspective the big thing was energy conservation, living to fight another day.

PEZ: When does your season finish?
I have a couple of races in late October then we have a team meeting to talk about the start of the 2015 season. The team wants to get us all on the right foot for next year from the very start.

PEZ: Has your home media made any fuss of you as a Vuelta finisher?
A little bit, I’m not one of your most well known US riders and that’s fine with me – I don’t mind being anonymous.

Amgen Tour of California 2014 stage 3The Tour of California – Mount Diablo State Park

PEZ: And your Worlds tip?
I’m thinking John Degenkolb, he has incredible legs just now – he’s always a very strong man and I wouldn’t put anything past him.

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 1,100 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.

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