The 26-year-old Texan completed the Vuelta a Espana in 2014, helping teammate John Degenkolb secure the points jersey during his first three-week race. Now in his second season, Haga is hoping to conquer another Grand Tour, whether it's the Vuelta again, the Giro d'Italia or the Tour de France.
“I would be OK with another Grand Tour as well,” Haga told Cyclingnews before heading to Berlin for the team's presentation on Wednesday. “We'll see how it works out, but I'm excited to get another three-week race under my belt, wherever that might be.”
Like every young cyclist, Haga dreams of riding the Tour de France, although he admits the season is far too young to be speculating about the team's plans for him in July.
“It's too early to say,” he said. “A guy can hope, though.”
Haga has reason to think big following a neo-pro season in which he scored multiple top-ten results, including finishing fourth in the individual time trial at the UCI 2.HC Volta a Burgos. He also grabbed top 10 finishes at Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen, where he finished 14th overall, the Tour of California, and the Tour of Belgium.
The results were the kind of progress that Haga, who did not start racing until he entered college at Texas A&M, expects as he continues to make incremental improvements to his game.
“I had a few top-tens and even a top five in time trials last year, so hopefully I can turn those into podiums and a win here or there this year – climb a little higher up,” he said. “The ever-present battle for me is positioning, particularly on field sprint stages. One race at a time, keep focusing on it and keep improving.”
Aside from his own results, Haga will focus this season on improving himself as a teammate for top sprinters Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel, who rely on Giant's leadout train to secure their own victories.
Haga made waves at the Vuelta during stage 4, when he chased down late surges from BMC's Manuel Quinziato and Lotto's Adam Hansen to stitch things back together before Degenkolb's winning effort in the sprint. After the stage, Degenkolb praised Haga's effort as “unbelievable.”
“That sort of leadout I've got down,” Haga said. “I can handle the small groups when I just need to mow down a few guys. But when it's five full squads fighting for control, that's my weak point at the moment. I need to be a little more aggressive and assertive.”
But with Giant-Alpecin's sprinters, Haga said, he's getting plenty of education and first-hand experience battling with other teams for the front.
“There's a lot of yelling going on at the time, coaching in the moment as well as breaking it down after each race, what to improve on and what I did well,” he said. “There's a lot of feedback all around. It serves well to improve what I need to.
“We've got multiple TVs in the buses, and we've got a DVR in there recording the race feed so that we can watch how it on the drive to the next hotel. We can break it down while it's still fresh in our minds. I have yet to work with Marcel in a sprint, but John is definitely good at explaining what needs to be done and what was done properly.”
Haga will get his chance to work with Kittel soon enough as part of the seven-rider squad the team will send to the Tour Down Under later this month. The Australian race will be Haga's earliest start to race season, but he's confident he'll have plenty left in the tank for a strong finish to his second season at the WorldTour level.
“I would normally be freaked out about starting this early,” he said. “But with the success I had last year working with the trainer and the coaches, I trust that they'll give me the needed rest at the appropriate time so I can actually make it through the whole year.
Along with getting a shot at another Grand Tour, Haga said he is targeting a spot on Giant's squad for the team time trial world championships, which will take place in the US this year. And like most of his fellow Americans, Haga is hoping to represent the US when Worlds roll out of Richmond, Virginia, in September.
“I'd love to do that,” he said. “Hopefully I can get some results to get on [USA Cycling's] radar. They still don't really know who I am, having not come up through their system.”
Haga's first full season in Europe was a chance to adjust to the new lifestyle and racing intensity while learning the ins and outs of the WorldTour peloton. He was generally happy with his efforts and output, but he knows there's room for improvement. So how would the student who earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering grade the pro bike racer's first year?
“Probably B+ because I'm hard on myself,” he said. “It was a successful year, but I would have liked to get some serious results.”