Giant-Alpecin's Chad Haga is making the most of his return to competition after being injured in the preseason training crash that also involved five of his teammates, including John Degenkolb and Warren Barguil. Haga finished 12th in Friday's Giro d'Italia opening time trial that his teammate, Tom Dumoulin, won in front of the Dutch team's home fans in Apeldoorn. Over the following two stages the 27-year-old from Texas climbed into the race's top 10 at ninth overall.
The result seems improbable, given that Haga arguably took the brunt of the damage caused when a driver crossed the centre line and hit the Giant-Alpecin riders head on while they were training in Spain. Haga was airlifted from the scene with deep gashes to his face, neck and chest that required surgery, but a fracture to his orbital bone near his right eye did not require surgery.
Haga returned to competition at the Criterium International at the end of March, finishing 22nd overall. Since then he's raced the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de Romandie, but it was his result in the Giro's first stage that confirmed his return to form.
Haga agreed to spend some of his valuable recovery time on the Giro's first rest day - as the peloton transfers from Holland to Cantanzaro, Italy, for the start of stage 4 - answering questions that Cyclingnews readers submitted via Twitter.
Mirjam - @TrampsLikeMe
Happy to see you back in the peloton. Have all your injuries healed 100%?
Haga: I'm not 100 percent recovered yet. Everything that I need to race a bike well is healed. The whiplash created some weird muscle compensations in my shoulder that are now really well trained in, and it's going to be a problem long term if I don't fix them. I have to do exercises daily to try and retrain my shoulder muscles and build strength back up there. But as far as bike racing everything is good.
Cecil Lance Lanoux - @LanouxCecil
Did the tx summer heat prepare u for some of the warmer days during the grand tours?
Haga: Maybe in some way. I at least know what it feels like to be truly hot – so in that sense – but heat training wears off pretty quickly. Maybe I know how to suffer more in the heat, even if I don't actually have the capacity to handle it physically any better. I'm mentally prepared for it, if not physically able to handle it as well as I used to.
Emma Nico - @ecnico15
Do you every find it hard to sleep the night before a race and how do you deal with it?
Haga: The night before a race I usually don't have trouble, it's the night after a race. If a race has gone really well and I'm still amped up and pretty excited about it, then I have trouble shutting off and getting to sleep. How do I cope with that? I really don't like the idea of taking sleeping pills, so I usually just lose some sleep. I try to get to bed as early as possible to try and wind down, but at the moment I don't really have a plan to handle it.
Seán Murnane - @murnaneman
What his hardest race?
Haga: Last year's Giro. That was an easy one. It was a brutal pace all day every day. We never had a chill day.
James Olliffe - @olliffejames
Were you just a little gutted you didn't have 4 more stitches to make it a round 100?!
Haga: In a masochistic way, yeah, a little bit. Once you're that high, it's like, 'Man, I was so close to triple digits. What's three more, really?' I'm sure I actually did crack triple digits because there were some internal ones that didn't get removed; they dissolve over time. I found one of them that had worked its way out. So I have no idea how many there are. Maybe there's just one and I had 98 stitches. I don't know.
Stephanie - @XO_XOStephanie
What's your advice for (young) riders who want to achieve the best they can?
Haga: My general advice for young riders is to just focus on their own development, because there are always going to be star riders who outpace you and move through the ranks quickly. Some young riders get depressed because they're not getting results and moving through the ranks so easily, but hard work pays off in the end. There have been a lot of really talented young bike racers who burn out when they finally have to start really working hard and they haven't had that built into them. Just being patient, doing your best and working hard pays off in the end.
PlineCycling - @PlineCycling
Do you think in the future you could become one of the best time trialists, or do your skills are better in climb?
Haga: I'd say my skills are better suited to time trialing than to climbing. I'm skinny, but I'm a tall dude, and I'm not extremely light. I think I could become a top time trialist – on the right course. The opening time trial here was dead flat and I did OK. I'm continually getting stronger, so I don't see why not.
Joey - @JoeyRaalte
How do you handle the stress before a big race, or do you not have any?
Haga: I like to read or listen to music to take my mind away from racing and not think about it all the time. Get really into a book or music, phone calls with my family or my fiance, anything away from bike racing helps.
Mirjam Bosgraaf - @MirjamBosgraaf
What do you want to achieve this year?
Haga: I want to win a bike race. I haven't won anything for a few years. Yeah. We'll go with that. Win a bike race.
Ines Cruz - @inesruud
Who's your Favourite rider of all times?
Haga: Presumably a professional rider? Probably Cancellara. I've always enjoyed watching him race when I wasn't racing against him. Even still I enjoy watching him race. I was an up-and-comer watching him win those Classics and Monuments the way he did. It was always enjoyable.
Linda Billett - @Thehenlady
Of current senior members in the peloton who do you see yourself most like in terms of style and skills?
Haga: Probably Kiryienka [Vasil Kiryienka of Team Sky, the current time trial world champion – ed.]. That's a sometimes nickname for me on this team. They call me Kiry sometimes, just because we're kind of the same metronomic pedaling style and have big engines. If my engine could develop to that sort of legendary status I'd be pretty happy.
cycling fan - @koylu_matri
Would you take yourself to your team in velogames?
Haga: Of course. You always bet on yourself, right?
Peter584 - @peter584
Adam Hansen thinks xray would be better for mech doping test, as engineer, your thoughts?
Haga: It's not really very practical to have a big X-ray machine. X-ray's can be defeated with the right materials, so I don't know that that would be the best. I also don't really like the thermal imaging - they way they've been using it anyways. I think right now the UCI's magnetic sensor is the way to go.
rob kane - @arrrkane
What pct or absolute change have u seen in w/kg (20min or 1hr) since yr super squadra days?
Haga: Let's see, that would have been 2010 when I was a Cat 1. For 20 minutes we're talking 40 to 50 watts and I'm 3kg lighter now. Whatever that works out to be.
Maria Blom - @Snabbaste
Were you surprised that the tt went so well?
Haga: No. I was relived that the expectations that I'd put on myself weren't unfounded or unreasonable. I knew I was capable of a ride like that, and I was really happy to pull it off.
Traci - @manntr07
Any hand damage after the crash? And when might we get a new video/new song? #pianoman
Haga: No hand damage, but with all the neck and shoulder trouble I have had very little piano practice time in the last several months, as well as life events keeping me busy. I can still play if I want to, but nothing is in the condition where I can record and put out new content just yet.
Fuuta - @wildfantasy
Do you have plans for the breakaway at the giro?
Haga: Absolutely. Unfortunately it's not just an application process, like, 'Today I will go in the breakaway.' But I will be trying.
Littlecyclist - @little_cyclist
Does being a professional help you with your recovery? dealing with pain & discomfort? it's amazing that you're back in the peloton
Haga: Yes. We have many races a year where our job is to endure pain and suffer. Also, when injuries come we have nothing to distract us form the job of getting better and getting back.
Jeremy Durrin - @Jerm_Durrin
Will you partake in any wine drinking in the evenings at the giro? You are in best area in the world for it!
Haga: Yeah. A glass every once in a while is a nice way to wind down and just feel like you're a normal human.
rene Kohlen - @kohleni
Does TGA take any extra precautions while training on roads that are open to the public after the training accident in Spain?
Haga: No. There's really nothing you can do. I personally am a bit more alert than I used to be, but if someone is going to drive on the opposite side of the road there's really nothing you can do to stop them.
Dave Schneider - @roaddirtdave
What changes (if any) do you make to equipment during a grand tour?
Haga: We change the gearing and wheels based on the stage, sometimes the smaller profile wheels for the climbing stages or easier gear ranges if the Giro decides they need to send us up some crazy steep mountain. Some guys will change bikes between the TCR and the Propel, but I prefer my TCR, so I'll stick with that.
Perruski - @peru_the_tit
What was your most memorable race as an Aggie? And do you see their new star, Grant Koontz, breaking into the pro peloton soon?
Haga: I've got to go back to our home race. We called it Tunis Roubaix. It was a gravel road race. It was always a lot of fun on the collegiate race scene. And Grant I don't know all that well personally, but he's certainly had some good results. If he sticks with it he can make it, I think.
Cyclepieces - @motorcycleMTNS
Your year so far has been completely nuts hasn't it?
Haga: [Laughs]. If we say the last 12 months of my life has been completely nuts, I'd say that's absolutely undeniable, yes. Contract renewed, engaged and the crash; it was a crazy ride.