My eyelids are sticky."
"I guess it's from all the sunscreen and sweat, but I feel it every time I blink."
Those were the first words we'd spoken in half an hour. Twenty kilometers earlier, Tom Dumoulin and I had been at sea level. Now we were pushing past 6,000 feet of elevation, well into the sixth hour of a ride front and back-loaded with intervals, a bit dehydrated and riding more on willpower than carbohydrates. We chugged onward, neither of us willing to surrender the half-wheel battle as we pulled ourselves lower into the headwind, riding that razor's edge of bonking, and unaware of the scenery around us as we climbed through lava fields on Tenerife. The interminable slog to the point at which we could finally coast back to the hotel never seemed to get closer, and we suffered in silence, except for the odd observation about sticky eyelids.
In the course of our training camp on that volcano we would have conversations about how we must trust the process. We have to suffer alone on a volcano, wondering how our bodies will somehow absorb the training and be excellent in just a month's time at the Giro d'Italia. It's dangerous to overthink it and train too hard, too often. Trust the process, do the training, and believe that it will work.
I wrote that introduction to a never-finished blog two years ago, ahead of Tom's first intentional pursuit of the GC of a Grand Tour. I'm not sure why I never completed it, but as I look back at it again, the words still ring true. In 2017 we trusted the process and did the work, and Tom won the Giro d'Italia.
Today, I once again find myself in Italy, with Tom, as he takes another crack at it. This time, "following the process" did not entail a trip to Tenerife for me, but Tom and several other teammates were there putting in the work, possibly even finishing a few days with sticky eyelids. For my own part, I got to focus for nearly a month on getting Giro-ready, which entailed a few solid rides. After such a frantic start to the season, I was in more of a "maintenance" than "build" mode, and think I have arrived in Bologna having struck the right balance of sharpness and freshness.
The days before a Grand Tour follow a usual pattern, and the days are more full than we might sometimes like. There is equipment to fine tune, rides and massages like always, but also press conferences, interviews, and the team presentation. The morning after arrival is always an early one as we have a mandatory blood test/anti-doping control (the only ones we know about beforehand). I have a problem with needles, so I always turn away and engross myself with my phone when the time comes to give myself the best chance of survival. Once the needle is gone, I turn back to press down on the gauze while they take care of things and prepare the bandage.
At the conclusion of the blood draw, the phlebotomist said, "Okay, done! Can you press down?"
I hadn't felt the needle extraction, but thought to myself that this guy must be a real ninja. I turned back to take over pressure on the gauze, only to find the needle still in my arm. Quite unhappy with the surprise, I scolded him, "That's not done! 'Done' starts when the needle is gone!" Thankfully, I did not have problems this time, but I kind of wish he'd had to pick me up off the floor so he wouldn't make the same mistake again.
Since then, everything has gone well as we get closer to the race start, and we've done our part to enjoy the wonderful spring weather. Today we got to ride the time trial course for tomorrow, which promises to put a real sting in our legs. I'm sure the race isn't too happy to have most of the favorites starting before the live broadcast, but storms are on the way and that's how the game is played sometimes.
As I think back, I realize that I have been fortunate to contribute to all of Tom's Grand Tour podium finishes. Each race played out differently, and I wonder what this one has in store for us. I am confident in the motivation of our team, as well as its youthful enthusiasm. My young teammate Chris Hamilton seems to be growing wiser with age, though, as he remarked this afternoon on the eve of his third Grand Tour, "Enjoy today, it's the best you're going to feel for the next three weeks!"
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American Chad Haga has raced for Team Sunweb since 2014 after two years with the former Optum US Continental team. He was part of the Team Sunweb roster that lifted Tom Dumoulin to the top step of the Giro d'Italia podium in 2017 and raced his first Tour de France in support of Dumoulin in 2018. Haga is a talented all-rounder with a special emphasis on time trials. The 29-year-old Texan got a late start in cycling, joining the race team at Texas A&M University, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering before starting his pro cycling career.
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