A relative latecomer to the professional ranks after earning an engineering degree at Texan A&M, Chad Haga has learned quickly since arriving at WorldTour level in 2014. He received a ringing vote of confidence from his Giant-Alpecin squad when he was handed a two-year contract extension during the winter.
“They always say the second contract is the hardest one, so just getting it at all is confirmation that my hard work has been noticed,” Haga told Cyclingnews at the Giant-Alpecin team presentation in Berlin last week. “It’s exciting to see how much more I can develop in the next two years and what kind of results I can get.”
The 27-year-old Haga was assigned a largely supporting role through his first two seasons at Giant-Alpecin, and while those duties will continue in 2017, he is likely to have a little more leeway to follow his own ambitions in the two years to come.
“I think I’ll get more opportunities where I’ll be the guy at lower-level races and some of the WorldTour races, and then I’ll also get more responsibility in the top races where we’re trying for results with somebody else,” Haga explained.
While the departure of Marcel Kittel to Etixx-QuickStep marks a definitive change in the Giant-Alpecin’s emphasis, Haga does not believe it will change his role unduly. “I’ve proven I can be pretty adaptable in whatever role the team wants me to play, whether it’s setting up the sprint train or riding on the hilly stages in support of a rider,” Haga said. “That’s the area I hope to improve on most this year, my climbing, to survive later in the day on big mountain stages.”
Haga’s early-season programme will see him build towards the Giro d’Italia by riding the Tours of Qatar and Oman and a series of French one-day races in February, before tackling the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie ahead of the corsa rosa.
With Tom Dumoulin targeting the maglia rosa early on at the Giro, Haga and his teammates could have some very specific duties to undertake during the opening week – and perhaps further, if the Dutchman can replicate his break-out showing at last year’s Vuelta a España.
“May’s a long way off and we’ll have to see what kind of form Tom is in but it would certainly change the dynamic and our duties,” Haga said. “You can’t discount anything at this point.”
For Haga, it will mark his second Giro in succession and a third Grand Tour in as many seasons after he completed the Vuelta during his debut campaign in 2014. There is, he said, more than a grain of truth to the cliché that a Grand Tour adds the proverbial 20 watts to a young professional’s armoury.
“My age and my experience aren’t really lined up the way they are for most professionals because I got my degree before I went into the sport full-time, so I feel that each Grand Tour is helping me close the gap to where I’d normally be at my age,” Haga said. “I really feel that they give me a big boost especially in endurance, and I’m developing the ability to make it through a stage race without completely dying. My body just kind of absorbs those big days better than before.”
The biggest day of all on Haga’s calendar, incidentally, could prove to be the Olympic Games road race in Rio de Janeiro on August 6 – though he acknowledged that earning selection for the United States’ five-man selection will be a tall order.
“I would love to go to the Olympics but that’s a whole other beast. Being selected is about legs and a political process as well. I have high hopes but really no control,” said Haga. Set to ride the Giro during the US National Championships, his hopes of automatic qualification are faint.
“There is an automatic selection process but those results are a bit unobtainable so I’ll really just have to ride my best all year and hope the people who make the decisions notice it.”