I started writing a blog a month ago and got half of it done before I stalled out. Not for lack of time - I was at training camp, free of the responsibilities of home life and not chasing a toddler around the house. It took a while to pin down exactly why the words wouldn’t come, but yesterday’s 4.5-hour cruise without any intervals gave my mind the time it needed to solve the puzzle: I’d already written the blog I was writing. Several times, in fact.
You know the one: here’s how my season ended; here’s what I did in the off-season; here’s what I’m looking forward to this year. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you about the Giro - loads of stories from that month in Italy, actually. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you about my off-season - returning to America on election day after ten months abroad during a global pandemic for two months of limited social interactions was not the off-season we’re accustomed to, to say the least. And it’s not that I’m not very excited about the upcoming race season, either. I’ve written blogs fairly regularly over my career, and while the details each year change, the pre-season blog has remained the same.
So in the spirit of mixing things up, I’m going to tell you a story from my off-season.
After we got back to our home in Colorado and laid low for a couple of weeks to be sure that COVID hadn’t joined us in our travels, I drove the thirteen hours down to collect my mom, who had been in self-isolation in anticipation of the chance to spend three weeks with her granddaughter after a year apart. In the couple of hours before I went to bed, I did an expedited cleanout of all my things still taking up space in her house to see what would make the trip to Colorado the next day. If you’re the sentimental type, prone to hoarding old stuff that you will never look at again, I highly recommend this strategy.
One of the items to make the cut was my framed diploma, which prompted the realization that I’ve reached the ten-year mark on my career. Ten years ago I hung my diploma on the wall, pushed the storage bins of my notes, books, and tests into the back of the closet, and dove headlong into life as a full-time bike racer. Seeing the date on my diploma prompted months of reflection over the off-season - a reflection that continues even today.
You see, it’s also a contract year for me, which is the bike-racer way of saying that I do not have a job for next year. I’m not worried about it, but the realization of being as-yet unsigned at the ripe old age of 32, with more years behind me than in front of me, lit the fuse of reflection. It seems silly to refer to myself as old, but it doesn’t take long at a Team DSM training camp to start to feel old. The average age of my team this year is 24 - my age when I joined the team eight years ago, already beyond the U23 category which encapsulates more than a few of my teammates today.
Seeing my young teammates’ eagerness and ignorance of what lays ahead reminds me so much of myself a decade ago, when I harbored aspirations of GC stardom. I think about my transition away from those goals and toward being the best support rider possible who can win the occasional time trial. Watching my teammates dive into corners like training tires are race tires and cars don’t hurt reminds me of the scars I’ve accumulated along the way, and I leave a gap on descents. Seeing them pile a plate with vegetables after a long ride reminds me that this sport is sinister, and we walk a fine line between being a lean racing machine and a disordered anorexic. All of this pushes me towards peeking out of my shell and teaching them the things I’ve learned so that maybe - they can avoid some of the same mistakes and continue on their meteoric rise to stardom as I chug along on my low-grade, decade-long ascent towards excellence.
With a team so full of raw talent, part of my job is now to help them develop, just as my older teammates did when I showed up. There are so many quirks to this job and hacks that can make life easier, that an older teammate willing to share can save a decade of trial-by-error.
I also have my own racing to focus on, though. I’m getting better every year, and the continued progress is an addiction I can’t quit. Even with all those years behind me, I believe the best years are still ahead. I’m no longer just living the dream I embarked on a decade ago - now, I’m also living the dream of family life while I race my bike around the world. All I can say is that I’m really looking forward to kicking off the 2021 race season soon.
See, I told you all pre-season blogs are the same.
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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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