by Anne Clarrissimeaux, photos compliments of Chad Haga
While road season in Texas gets set to make a triumphant return in the next few weeks, a Texas-born racer has already begun his season in earnest – and it’s in the upper ranks of international bicycle racing on cycling’s ProTour. Chad Haga, 26, rides for Team Giant-Alpecin (Germany) and spent some time chatting about his upcoming races in some of the sport’s biggest events, life on the pro levels, and how he got from here to there.
As a writer, I could spend hours trying to come up with the best ways to describe Haga myself. Studious, witty, conscientious, humble, quiet, driven, smart … but it’s his self-penned Twitter bio that is perhaps the best description of him: “Bike racer, pianist, book aficionado, mechanical engineer, and proponent of the Oxford comma.”
(And while I could happily debate the overuse of the serial comma for pages on end, I’m thinking you readers would much prefer I return to cycling talk.)
But that’s the thing! When talking about Haga, a self-professed bookworm, a discussion about grammar is not out of place. In terms of his artistic and creative talents, his academics and prolific writings, philosophical views, interest in different cultures, and love of travel, he’s that rare idea of a renaissance man. Take a spin through his Twitter (@ChadHaga) or his Instagram (@thehagasaki) and you’ll see that peppered throughout the cycling posts are snapshots of architecture, his own creative artwork and linear sketches, commentary on social mores, and every now and then, a picture of a piano that he’s sat down at and played.
And while Haga possesses a wide-ranging grasp of life, his focus is absolutely on the bicycle.
Born in Midland and raised in McKinney and Sherman, Haga’s always been into cycling: BMX and mountain biking during his early years. When he got his first road bike, he got “a little carried away,” he says. He’d decided to ride road with his childhood best friend, and, in a way, the rest is history. Winning his first road race at 17 as an unattached rider had him hooked by the time he enrolled at Texas A&M University.
“Chad’s attention to detail and his work ethic is really something,” Wenger says.
During his college years, Haga was also racing for amateur teams, including Team Brain and Spine Cycling and Super Squadra. Austin’s Dave Wenger was Haga’s coach for many years and was able to see the determination that the young cyclist had early on, “Chad’s attention to detail and his work ethic is really something,” Wenger says. “He is someone who sets goals and is going somewhere with them.”
Wenger and Haga would travel to those amateur races on a modest budget, but it built a foundation for Haga that has paid off. “He is very humble,” Wenger says. “But Chad is absolutely one of the top cyclists to come out of Texas.” And Wenger tells how Haga’s physicality is impressive as well, saying how his results in VO2 max training were much more aggressive than Wenger has seen with any other rider he’s worked with. “Chad is a natural athlete.”
Haga raced for the Aggies in college and says that during his last semester, he went “all in,” racing as well and smart as he could, positioning himself to begin his racing career in earnest once his days in College Station were over. “Ever since I started racing, I thought it could be a career,” he says. The determination paid off. When he graduated in 2010 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Haga had two very real paths laid out in front of him: put his degree to use and take a job in the engineering field or let his athletic talent take precedence and accept a position with an elite team that had extended him an invitation.
Haga chose to eschew the conventional route and go race his bicycle.
His decision was based mostly on the advice he received from his father: don’t make the safe choice. This was poignant coming from his dad, Chris, who at the young age of 50 had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Chris had never smoked a day in his life. His message resonated with his son – you never know how life will turn out. (Chris is currently going through a third recurrence of lung cancer.)
Becoming a bike racer.
From 2011 until he turned pro, Chad was with an amateur team called Rio Grande Cycling. With Rio Grande he was going to national-level races and competing against pro teams. The cool thing was that he was getting results. “I went broke that year chasing my dream,” he recalls. In late 2011 he joined the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth team and in 2012 actually started getting paid – and that meant he no longer had to sleep on friend’s couches while traveling to races and to train. That year, he placed 4th at Copperas Cove. Excited to build on a great 2011, Haga faced injuries from a few different crashes, including a spill in Canada that resulted in a huge gash in his knee, and also getting sick while on a trip to Guatemala.
He was wearing the yellow jersey at a race in Oregon when the peloton was coming down a big hill and a huge pile-up ensued. Haga ended up having surgery on both wrists, and even though his race season was over, he knew he’d still get a salary (such a new and beneficial thing for him) and vowed to work hard in the offseason and go into training camp strong. “I had to hit the reset button after all of that,” he says.
The reset button worked. Haga started the 2013 season strong, winning the Joe Martin Stage Race and following that up with impressive showings the rest of the season. Highlights included 1st Prologue at the Tour of Elk Grove in Illinois, 2nd Overall at the Tour of Alentejo in Portugal, 3rd Overall at the Cascade Classic in Oregon, and 10th Overall at the Tour of California.
His 2013 race season brought lots of attention from top-level teams. Haga signed to race for two years for Argos-Shimano (at the time), and on Jan. 2, 2014 headed to Europe for his training camp. “The biggest difference was the size of the team and the size of the organization in general,” he says. “The level of support is beyond anything I’d ever imagined.”
Racing in Europe Begins.
As he settled into life as a bicycle racer on the ProTour, Haga found that while he missed some of the American way of life (some favorite greasy foods, actual-height showers chief among them), he was enjoying the European lifestyle he was finding in the training among the landscape of Lucca, Italy. “The reception of cycling over here is very different from home,” he says. “It’s a way of life here; it’s nice to have some real recognition for what we do from the people here.”
Haga’s first year with Argos-Shimano was one where he raced hard, learned a lot, and posted impressive results that built confidence going into this current season. Perhaps an unforgettable memory of the 2014 season for Haga was ending up as the final lead-out man for the team during the last few kilometers of Stage 4 of the Vuelta de Espana. It also happened to be his 26th birthday.
“Every time the weather gets cold in Colorado, I head home to Texas and train.”
He spent this past offseason recharging for his sophomore season mostly in Colorado Springs. “I spent a fair bit of time mountain biking and a lot of time with friends, so it flew by,” he says. “Every time the weather gets cold in Colorado, I head home to Texas and train.” When he is here –– and that is rare these days –– he can be found riding the roads of his old stomping grounds, usually alone, past the leftover fields of McKinney and beyond. Sometimes he’ll find some old college buddies to share some miles, but usually he’s alone out there on the training rides.
“Off the bike, I was really busy just preparing for this year, but I tried to spend as much time with family as possible, as I’ll be away from them for most of the year again.”
The team, now Giant-Shimano, is an eclectic group of international riders but also includes fellow Texan Lawson Craddock. “We have a really cohesive team,” Haga says.
“I feel good about the upcoming season,” he says. “Training went really well last fall, but then I got sick at the start of the year, which set me back a bit. I wasn’t quite as fast as I wanted to be in Australia, but I managed to do my job well anyways. The extra rest may prove a good thing for me in a few months.”
He’s looking forward to being a contributing part of the team and says he would like to get a good results; there’s a chance he will do some stateside in 2015, maybe the Tour of California, nationals or some others.
“I’m most looking forward to another year of racing at this level and the opportunities it will bring, as well as the new races I’ll get to do in more new countries. My biggest individual challenge will be trying to get results against the best in the world. My expectations for myself have increased, but the racing hasn’t gotten any slower. For the team, it will be tough to reach the same level of success as last year, but we’re going to try!”
Having a year in the ProTour under his belt already has allowed him to hit the ground running this year, as he already has a feel for the racing and the team. “I don’t need a warm-up period to figure things out anymore,” he says. He’s living and training in the cycling mecca of Girona, Spain this year.
The team just finished racing at the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia, the first stop on the world cycling calendar. “It’s only January, but it was a WorldTour event, so the level of competition was really high,” he says. “That Stage 4 crash was gnarly. We knew from our recon ride a week ago that the finish would be dangerous if there was still a large group. I used up my legs to make sure our GC riders were well-positioned going into the final 3K, then was dropped on the next hill. I’ve never been more thankful to have been dropped! Unfortunately, Lawson had a bad crash early in the stage and will be off the bike for a while, so I told him to eat lots of Tex-Mex for me while he’s at home.”
Quick Hits with Chad Haga:
You seemed to like the Land of Oz – you even held a koala bear, think you’ll go back?
Well, I only got to pet a koala bear; but I did hold a baby kangaroo. I really enjoyed the racing and the off-the-bike life here in Australia, so I hope to come back in the future.
You keep a very detailed – and entertaining – blog about all things racing and life as a bike racer. How’d that start?
I did it to send race reports to my parents back home. I also don’t speak a lot around groups of people or strangers, but I like to be able to make myself understood and the blog is a great way to do that.
You play the piano?
Yeah, I took lessons from the time I was a kid until I graduated high school, and I just kept playing. Music runs in my mom’s family. I do it to relax, and sometimes I find them in our team hotels so I’ll play. It gets my mind away from racing, it’s a great stress reliever.
What made you choose mechanical engineering as a major?
I like stuff that moves. I like to tinker and see how things work.
Advice to young bike racers looking to follow in your footsteps:
Focus on yourself, worry about your own progress. It won’t help to compare yourself to another rider who might be stronger in other ways or be training differently than you. Focus on getting better and you will.
Advice to the guys racing in Texas:
Don’t obsess over what the other guy is doing. Like don’t think that a pro guy’s race position is what you need to copy – believe it or not, there’s still a lot of trial and error at the pro level. Get someone to help you find out what works best for you and your equipment.