Vuelta a España podium finisher Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) took the biggest result of his career on Sunday but the Australian revealed that it was touch and go whether he would even take part in the race.
Haig’s result came after battling back from a serious crash in the Tour de France, where he left the race injured on stage 3. On top of that his main goal for the Spanish Grand Tour, pre-race, was to help local star and teammate Mikel Landa make as big an impact as possible.
That all changed for Haig in a roller-coaster Vuelta a España, where he wasn’t wholly certain of third place until he stood on the final podium in Santiago de Compostela.
“Coming into the Vuelta, 10 days before it started I didn’t even know I was going to be here,” Haig told reporters shortly after he became the first Australian to make the Vuelta a España podium in 12 years.
“The surgery I needed was worse than I expected. And when I came here, it was to do my best to help Mikel. A podium was definitely not even considered.”
However, that started to change the day he made it into the breakaway to Balcón de Alicante and as Landa began to fade as a result of his own tough comeback from injuries in the Giro d’Italia.
“We got so much time in that break that all of a sudden I was fifth or sixth on GC [seventh - Ed.], but I was never super confident. I just thought I might as well give it a go.”
Then, even more importantly, on the first major mountain stage at Velefique Haig did more than hold on, placing fourth and moving up to fourth on GC. At the same time, Landa fell completely out of the GC running and later abandoned.
From thereon Haig continued to remain in the running, and on Saturday he finally edged onto the podium. British challenger Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), however, was only a minute behind on GC and with a 33.8-kilometre time trial left to race things still were hanging in the balance regarding the podium.
"I knew [Yates] would have to go out super hard and I accepted he'd probably have time on me at the top of the climb – that's the part of the course which really suits him,” Haig told TV reporters. “I tried to stay calm and relaxed and I knew that if I did a good ride that unless he was on an amazing day I'd be fine. I stayed relaxed and managed to do it.”
Finally Haig placed 17th on the final stage 21, 26 seconds up on Yates. The podium finish was in the bag.
"Hugging my wife and child at the finish was pretty amazing,” he said. “I'll have a nice dinner with the team tonight. It doesn't just happen in one or two years of work, it's 15 years and so many people to thank along the way. I can't thank everyone who has helped me along the way enough.”
Haig also paid tribute to Bahrain Victorious, who not only won a stage with Damiano Caruso in the Vuelta as well, but also placed young Swiss racer Gino Mäder in fifth, taking the Best Young Rider’s prize. Despite losing Landa, the squad won the Vuelta’s teams classification too.
Also triumphant in the Benelux Tour with Sonny Colbrelli, the 27-year-old was asked what it was that made Bahrain Victorious so successful.
“To be honest, it’s nothing special in the team, but we do basic things very well. We have really good bikes, wheels, clothing and on top of that, a lot of class act bike riders who perform amazingly," Haig said, “and the results come with that.”
After taking the biggest triumph of his career to date, Haig confirmed that from now on he will be looking to go on to try for more Grand Tour success. Going for top GC results had been his aim in the Tour de France this summer, he already tried for the overall in other events like Paris-Nice, and this Vuelta podium finish has provided ample evidence he has the firepower to do so.
Haig is the first Australian to make it onto the Vuelta podium since Cadel Evans way back in 2009 and he added that the two have been in touch.
“He messaged me yesterday, to congratulate me on my ride and wish me luck for today, I have a bit of contact with him,” Haig said.
“I’d like to thank everyone in Australia who stayed up to support me and hopefully more things can come. Cadel went on to do amazing things after his Vuelta podium and if I can do even half of what he did, I’d be very satisfied.”
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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