There were moments when, lying in a hospital bed in Valencia, Chad Haga contemplated the prospect of never racing his bike again.
It is no exaggeration to say that the American is lucky to be alive after taking the brunt of the impact when a car crashed into Giant-Alpecin riders on a training ride in late January. Now, though, having committed wholeheartedly to the recovery process – from injuries that included an orbital fracture, damaged veins and arteries, and wounds to the chest, neck, and chin – he finds himself pinning dossards onto his team jersey once more.
After making his first outing of the season at the Critérium International over a week ago, Haga also raced Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, where he told Cyclingnews that he couldn’t have hoped for the comeback to be going much better.
“It [Critérium International] went really well. I think it went all right on its own, much more so considering it was my first race in six months, after the crash, so I’m happy. I have to keep reminding myself I have January legs right now and everyone else is in Classics season, and I’m just getting started,” he said.
“Especially on Sunday’s course, I got dropped in the first two hours, but it seemed that once everyone burned their extra energy I stayed stable through the whole day and finished strong, so I think that was a good start.”
Serious crashes can affect riders in different ways, and for many they can have a lasting psychological impact. It is common, particularly in the first races back, for nerves to set in when riding in the bunch, especially when races reach their flashpoints and frantic riders take risks and fight for position.
“I’m still working through that,” Haga admitted. “I’m excited to be racing and really motivated but when you’re going 50, 60 kilometres per hour, fighting for space, there’s a mental switch you have to have control of and I’m building that right now.
“I stiffen up sometimes, sometimes it’ll be really in the racing and other times someone will just bump and I’ll think ‘Ahh we’re all going down!’ And suddenly I’ve lost 20 spots.”
The 27-year-old smiled apprehensively when Cyclingnews reminded him, ahead of the race, that Scheldeprijs, with its history of crashes over the years, had acquired a reputation as one of the most dangerous races out there, and that rain was forecast to fall over Antwerp that afternoon.
The dangers, though, usually present themselves in the finale and, as planned, the American was well out of the picture by then – almost eight minutes out of the picture. Despite finishing third to last, he took encouragement from gaining more ground in that psychological battle.
“Scheldeprijs was successful, even despite finishing 7' down, because I needed the racing and to continue fighting the mental demons,” he wrote on Twitter. “Onward!”
Onto the next one, then, and though it might have seemed unlikely in late January, Haga has big plans for the next few months.
“I’ve got some big racing on the calendar, it’s going to be a heavy schedule, so I need some fitness – quick,” he told Cyclingnews.
“Basically we’re jumping right back in to what I had planned before the crash, just not in the shape I’d hoped I’d be.”