Barely seven months and a lifetime ago at team camp in January 2020, we shared murmurs of disbelief that the Tour of Guangxi, scheduled for October, might be at risk if China failed to get control of some virus outbreak. Within the sphere of professional cycling, the idea that world events might affect our race calendar was not one on which we had a firm grasp.
My last post was one of cliched optimism and hope at the start of the season. In fairness, the Tour de la Provence did deliver on the hopes that I had going in. The season was looking promising, but by then Europe was increasingly worried about the potential explosion of the coronavirus, which had made its inevitable arrival.
Keeping abreast of the news and its effects on racing was a constant effort, as the situation was so fluid. I was unable to square the news coming from Italy with my rapidly approaching departure for Tirreno-Adriatico, and finally breathed a sigh of relief when it was canceled, one of the first dominos to fall on the racing calendar.
By then I was beginning to see the big picture, and kept my ear to the ground to better anticipate events. When the first cases appeared in Spain, my wife and I discussed our plan of action. We were together as a family in a comfortable place and decided that, come what may, we would weather the storm in Girona. Seeing the extreme measures it took for China and Italy to gain control of the outbreak, I was doubtful that America would be willing to make the same sacrifices, envisioning a situation in which racing re-started in Europe, but Americans weren’t allowed to return.
With the decision made, I began to prepare, accumulating some extra shelf-stable food on each trip to the grocery store. When the travel ban, and later Spain’s lockdown, were announced, there was a flurry of activity around town, especially as the cyclists scrambled to get their hands on any smart trainer they could. We snagged a kiddie pool and a 3,000-piece puzzle from friends who left, and I bought more coffee than I thought we would need to get through the lockdown, unsure whether the craft roasters would be able to stay in operation.
Our preparations made, we entered the time warp named 'Lockdown.' With our car uselessly taking up space, I rearranged the garage to accommodate my new setup of a dual-fan, Netflix, Zwift and squat-rack. By the end of the first week, we had hit our stride with workouts, childcare, meal preparations (we committed to eating well), and puzzle/streaming time. We envied the dog owners walking past our windows. We traded turns taking out the trash, walking the slightly longer way to the dumpster on the nice days. We became very grateful for our terrace space, our only escape to the outside world.
As the restart of the racing season was moved further out almost daily, my coach and I dialed my training back to a manageable level that would still maintain enough fitness that I wasn’t starting from zero when we were finally allowed outside again. I committed myself to getting on my bike every day, even if I didn’t always complete the full ride I intended. The most difficult part of riding indoors is having the option of riding outside (“is the bad weather really so bad?”), but in this case the trainer was my only option—the outside world did not even exist.
Days passed, and as I mowed through movies and series I had saved, my quads adjusted to the strangely different physiological strains of pedaling in place. I dabbled in the world of Zwift racing and quickly decided that I much prefer the real thing. Our team started doing weekly meetings so that we could stay connected with teammates. Time marched on.
The silver lining of the lockdown was undoubtedly the unexpected months at home with my girl, who was changing daily. We were able to focus on her sleep training, and I was home for her introduction to solid foods (and witness to her development into a voracious eater of everything). She was the greatest source of joy in those bleak weeks. Time together we would not have had under normal circumstances.
After 48 straight days of riding in place, exercise was again allowed outside in Catalonia, but only in a specific time window and only within city limits. It takes a special kind of crazy, attainable only after several weeks of confinement, to roll out the door before sunrise and do laps of a 6-minute climbing loop for four hours. I think I spent half of the ride climbing out of the saddle, feeling the bike move beneath me again, and marveled every time I plunged back down to the bottom of the hill at how loud the wind in my ears was.
Professionals were allowed to leave the city limits for training soon thereafter, occasionally needing to produce a racing license to prove our status to doubtful police. Training offered new challenges for a spell, now that all the water fountains had been closed off and most businesses were still not open to refuel. Descents were just as likely to be completely devoid of traffic as they were to have a single car rallying up recklessly, so I opted for caution.
Eventually Europe began to stabilize and life began to take on a somewhat more familiar form. A revamped race schedule gave us something to hope, plan, and train for, and it looked increasingly likely that it may actually happen. In any case, Team Sunweb would be prepared for racing, and Sunweb came through to open up a hotel in Austria for our exclusive use. It was bizarre to see teammates at the hotel but be forbidden from any interaction with them beyond a passing, “Hey,” but what aspect of life these days isn't bizarre?
We enjoyed fantastic training as race fitness began to make its return. Coffee stops were of the homemade variety, but no less satisfying, and I learned to sleep with the constant jingle of cowbells outside my window. Life for those three weeks felt familiar in many senses, which was a big boost to morale for the whole team. Another boost to my morale was the wifi router in my room, which I neglected to tell my teammates about when they complained of poor connections.
Every day the races crept closer and plans were fine-tuned. The racing community in Girona shared its knowledge of labs where we could complete the onerous testing required to race, everyone grumbling at the additional responsibilities to fit into our schedules but thankful that they allowed us to get back to racing.
Only as time goes on do I fully recognize the myriad of ways the lockdown has impacted me. Recently before departing for the Czech Tour, it occurred to me that I had spent the previous few days stressing about the travel to the race, with only a passing thought given to the race itself. The travel passed without incident, just a constant discomfort of being in such close proximity to strangers, masks or not.
I’m glad that my race season will resume this week at the Czech Tour (Aug. 6-9), at a relatively low-key race, where I can get back into the swing of it. I’ve committed myself to being thankful for every day we can race as a second wave begins to make its way through Europe and threatens to derail the season again. At the very least, I’ve got two negative PCR tests in hand and am in Czechia with my teammates, and I’ll pin a number on again tomorrow, so we’re off to a good start!
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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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