Chad Haga (Team Sunweb) is a familiar face at the Giro d'Italia – 2017 will be his third in as many years – but the 28-year-old Texan says he’s heading into uncharted waters in this year's race. But not so much by what's coming up, as to what preceded it.
Riding two three-week races for the first time in his career in 2016 was already a new landmark in Haga's four-and-a-bit year professional career. But his build-up to this year's Giro d'Italia is, Haga tells Cyclingnews on Wednesday, "different from any Grand Tour I've done before."
"It was not as much racing and I've never done altitude training right before the Giro d'Italia, either. Before, they [altitude training sessions] have been late in the season or just by being in Colorado. So I've had a very focused program to be very good here in the Giro.
"I've not had so much racing either, that was planned from the start. My first focus was Tirreno-Adriatico to support Tom there, but not much racing beforehand. I had to be with Tom [Dumoulin] at altitude" – ten days in the Sierra Nevada and ten days on the Teide in the Canary Islands – "and come here hopefully ready to rumble."
The Mount Etna uphill finish coming so early, he says, means that hitting the ground running in this year's Giro was never going to be a bad idea. "I'm not a pure climber but I'll support the mountain riders and Tom's GC bid in that area as far as I can and leave them to the final kilometres." There will be some voyages in the dark in the mountains, too, for Haga, given the only climb he knows beforehand in this year's Giro is the Mortirolo, which the race tackled in 2015.
However, whilst he will be as curious as anyone to see how his different Giro approach works out on the climbs, his predilection for time trialing is no secret. The depth of his effort in the Giro's mid-race time trial may well depend on how well Dumoulin's GC bid is going and if he needs to save his legs. But he is definitely looking forward to emptying the tank in the final race against the clock in Milan, when Dumoulin will not be needing his support the day after.
Although hopes are high, too, that Team Sunweb will have a lot to celebrate in Milan, the Giro d'Italia start itself is proving much more low-key than in the Netherlands last year for the team. 12 months ago, be it training beforehand or racing across central Holland in the Giro's first three stages, Dumoulin, as the standout local favourite, could barely turn a pedal stroke without being cheered on by tens of thousands of Dutch tifosi.
"It's a lot quieter here," Haga says, "I feel like it's a more important Giro because it's the 100th, but here in Sardinia, while it's beautiful, the population isn't as big as in mainland Europe." One similarity, though, with Holland is that the terrain on stage 1 at least looks to be fairly flat: "I think we'll have some crosswind moments," Haga warns. At which point, should that happen, Haga will have to put his unprecedented build-up to the Giro to the most important tests of all.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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