Chad Haga turned around a miserable Giro d'Italia for the Sunweb team, with his victory in the final time trial in Verona a lone high point in a Grand Tour that saw the team decimated by crashes and finishing the three-week race with only four riders.
"I expected that I would go very fast today, but the victory is a bit of a surprise," Haga said. "I had plans. They worked out great."
After the team's leader for the general classification Tom Dumoulin crashed and abandoned on stage 5, Sunweb was forced to refocus on whatever it could get out of the Giro. Later on, Robert Power, Louis Vervaeke then Sam Oomen all were forced to abandon, further dimming the hopes of success.
Haga has had notable results in late-Grand Tour tests, taking seventh in Rovereto in last year's Giro and sixth in San Marino on stage 9 this year, so he put all of his focus onto a top result in Verona.
"My victory is a consolation prize, and it was a way to redeem our Giro. We came here in top form to support Tom, but unfortunately, he was forced to leave. Our Giro was not over, and we took our form and legs and tried to shift it in other ways. I am glad I could make good on that," Haga said.
The American turned professional with the same team when it was Giant-Shimano in 2014, and has been a loyal domestique who helped Dumoulin to the overall win in the Giro d'Italia in 2017. He has faced numerous obstacles over the past five and a half seasons, including a devastating crash with a wrong-way driver in the team training camp in 2016 that left him with a deep scar on his neck and the death of his father from cancer later that year.
"The training crash in 2016, it took a lot of work to come back, not only physically, but the mental recovery. It was hard to not be scared all the time, to go into gaps, and it took more time, but I managed to do so."
Haga remembered his father after a victory that he said was "extremely emotional" and "bittersweet".
"I thought of [my father] many times today. I knew that whenever the success came, the tears would come immediately. When the success, with all he sacrificed for me to give me this opportunity, I wanted to make good on that."
Having sat in the hot seat as the fastest early starter for over two hours, Haga could only watch nervously as stage 9 time trial winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) fought to challenge his time. But a fierce general classification battle in the mountains took some of the power out of the Slovenian's legs.
"I needed the tough guys to wear themselves out for three weeks, it shows I can pull it off given the right circumstances," Haga said.
"Today I felt like I was going extremely fast. When I went so well in stage 9, that didn't suit me as well, I thought that today could be a possibility. I never stopped believing that I could win.
Haga is the first American to win a Grand Tour time trial since Taylor Phinney won the prologue of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, he credited his evolution to the Sunweb team, saying the "rational, logical and scientific" way of working has paid off.
"It's very special to represent the USA in the Giro and to win a stage. I take pride to show that among American flag in the bike races. Now I am at the top of the TTs, and it means a lot not having come up through the development program, and that hard work and patience can get you there."