American Chad Haga will start Milan-San Remo for Giant-Alpecin on Sunday in place of Simon Geschke, who broke his collarbone last week in a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico. Haga got the news last week while competing at the Italian race.
"It was either the day of the final time trial, or the night before," he told Cyclingnews. "I knew I was a reserve rider anyways, but I had kind of forgotten about it until Simon broke his collarbone and I realised that I might be going there. They asked me what I thought about it and decided whether they wanted to pick me or another reserve rider. But they ended up going with me.
"It's really nice to be a rider that they go to when they need someone to fill a spot. Someday I'll make the original roster, hopefully, but things have been going well and it's nice that they feel they can depend on me when they need someone."
Haga, 26, started his season in January at the Tour Down Under, supporting sprinter Marcel Kittel and general classification contender Tom Dumoulin. From there, he went to Dubai, the Vuelta a Murcia and the Tour du Haut Var. He spent the last week battling the peloton and the weather at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he infiltrated a breakaway on stage 3 and spent the day off the front.
The 203km stage from Cascina to Arezzo included two ascents before finishing with five 11km circuits in Arezzo. Haga joined Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), Danilo Wyss (BMC) and Rick Flens (LottoNL-Jumbo) in a move that got away early in the race.
The escapees had nearly a five-minute lead with 95km to go, but the efforts of Tinkoff-Saxo at the front of the field cut into their advantage as the race got closer to the finish line. The breakaway had less than a minute gap with 30km to go and began to fall apart as the race neared its end. Boem and Haga were the last riders to be swept up by the field 10km later.
“That was a fun day racing my bike,” Haga said. “It was all for naught, and it put me in a big hole for the rest of the week, but that's how it goes.”
In just his second year with the WorldTour squad, Haga has grown more comfortable racing at a new level, and he believes the Milan-San Remo start is evidence that the team has noticed.
"I've had a really good spring with the team," he said. "At every race I'm able to contribute to the team's result and do what they want me to do. I've been satisfied with the work I've been able to accomplish so far this year, and apparently they are as well for them to send me to a race like this, which is so important to the team."
Aside from the added pressure that goes along with competing in a Monument of the sport, the physical demands of spending 300km in the saddle can be daunting, but Haga, who said his longest race to date has been Classic San Sebastian at 219km, believes he's ready for the added challenge.
"Gimme a couple more days rest and I should be good to go," he said. "I've got a rest period coming up here in a bit over a week. I'll have 25 race days by that point - before April - so I'm going to need a break. Thankfully it's not too far away."
After that, Haga will continue to focus on making Giant-Alpecin's team for the Giro d'Italia in May. A Giro start would mean missing out on the Tour of California, but the chance to finish his second Grand Tour - Haga finished the Vuelta a Espana last year - is clearly a priority.
"Everything looks good for the Giro at the moment, so I'm staying focused on making that selection," he said. "I'm hoping it will happen. Things change so quickly that you never know these days. But that's what I'm working toward and hoping for."