Chad Haga will make his first appearance with Giant-Alpecin in 2016 at Dwars door Vlaanderen Wednesday after a training ride accident in January in which he and five teammates were hit head on by a car in Calpe, Spain. The six rider squad for the 1.HC race will then head south for the French Critérium International stage race on March 26-27.
Haga suffered facial and neck injuries and had surgery for an orbital fracture. The 27-year-old also took the brunt of the car collision with a deep laceration across his chest, neck, chin and lip, along with contusions and abrasions further reminders of the accident.
"I've trained harder in the last 2 months than I have in my whole life. My form won't show it, but I'm finally going to pin a number on!" Haga wrote on Twitter.
With the team hit hard by injuries, Giant-Alpecin will field just six-riders, although coach Arthur van Dongen explained they won't be showing up just for appearances sake.
"We will still be ready to challenge and to make an impression as a team," said van Dongen. "We will try to be in the breakaway and we must be attentive during the key moments of the race as the combination of the steep hills will make it exhausting. This is a very young line-up and it will be an important race in the development of the team."
Neo-pro Sam Oomen will be given the freedom to pursue his personal ambitions at Dwars door Vlaanderen with the American trio of Haga, Caleb Fairly and Carter Jones better suited to the Critérium International parcours.
"The young riders we take to France will get the opportunity to develop themselves and explore their general classification potential with no immediate pressure for results. The race will be decided on the last day with the 14.1km uphill finish to the Col de L'Ospedale," van Dongen said of the two-day race.
The 199.7km Dwars door Vlaanderen features the iconic Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont hellingen that have regularly featured in the Tour of Flanders and is regarded as an important race for the Belgian monument. Both climbs will again feature in Friday's E3 Harelbeke where Giant-Alpecin will field a stronger team with the ambition of posting a top result.
Zico Waeytens offers the team an option for a spring finish and is the rider the team are backing as coach Luke Roberts explained.
"At E3 Harelbeke we are facing one of the toughest races among the Flemish Classics. We have a few riders coming into good shape and I expect them to be competitive," Roberts said. "The second half of the race contains a lot of cobbled climbs and narrow roads making it a difficult finale. With Zico part of the line-up, we also have some added local knowledge that can be to the team's advantage during this challenging race."
Giant-Alpecin for Dwars door Vlaanderen and Critérium International: Caleb Fairly, Chad Haga, Cheng Ji, Carter Jones, Fredrik Ludvigsson and Sam Oomen.
Giant-Alpecin for E3 Harelbeke: Søren Kragh Andersen, Roy Curvers, Bert De Backer, Koen de Kort, Ramon Sinkeldam, Tom Stamsnijder, Albert Timmer and Zico Waeytens.