Inside a sweltering black tent, sitting on the literal and figurative hot seat, Chad Haga watched as the last of his rivals for the final stage of the Giro d’Italia filtered through the finish line. Campanaerts, Caruso, Kangert. Roglic. As the Slovenian passed into Verona’s Arena, Haga covered his face in a towel and wept.
He wept for his first Grand Tour stage win. And for his team’s redemption, after a Giro where everything went wrong. Just the sort of things athletes usually weep for. Most of all, though, he wept for his father.
“I knew whenever the success came, the tears would also come immediately,” Haga said. “Especially when I achieved the success that he sacrificed for, to give me this opportunity. I knew they’d come when I made good on that.”
Those tears sitting on the hot seat, and on the podium, and sneaking out as he sat for interviews afterwards, those were for dad. They were for long drives to junior races and hours spent waiting in feed zones, for perspective when it was easy and a hand on his shoulder when it was hard. “He isn’t here to see this,” Haga said. “And that’s very sad. But it shows that all his sacrifice and support were well placed.”
Haga’s win was not a surprise. In fact, it was a long time coming. It came at the end of a slow but steady upward trajectory punctuated by absolute tragedy.
It came in two parts. In early spring of 2016, Haga and four teammates were hit by a car while training in Spain. He has a scar that runs down his face and across most of his torso, a scar so long it looks like someone or something tried to cut him in half. The physical toll was substantial; he spent months healing. The fear it instilled in him took even longer to dissipate, he said. It was years before he could again hit corners at full speed and shoot gaps in the peloton.
The same year, Haga’s father, Chris, died of cancer. “He was my biggest supporter; my racing was an escape for him as he battled cancer for six years,” Haga said. Chris’ cancer was what spurred Haga to race full time.
Haga was on track for an engineering job. Right as he graduated from Texas A&M, a spot on an elite team opened up. It was the same time Chris was diagnosed. “He told me, ‘The desk job will always be there. Go race,’” Haga said. And so Chad did.
That stint with an elite team led to one with domestic pro team Optum, and then, in 2014, a step-up to the big leagues with Giant-Shimano. That team has since turned into Sunweb. He’s morphed, slowly, into one of the best time trialists in the sport.
On Sunday, he finally proved it. He did it with his legs, but also his head. “I had to wait for the guys who are usually better than me to get tired,” he said. He put himself in the gruppetto every day for two weeks. Sat there, conserving, while rivals like Primoz Roglic had to punch it up front.
Haga does undersell himself, though this is nothing new. Victor Campanaerts, the current hour record holder, was doing the same thing. They were back there together, saving energy. And Haga still beat him. When you point that out, he just smiles.
I feel like I’ve had the same conversation with Haga at least half a dozen times. A time trial approaches, usually at the Giro, and I swing by the bus to say hello, then ask something deeply unprofound like, “You’re going for it, right?” He says yes, always yes, but with a funny tilt of his head that tells me he’s not really sure he can do it. Then he does well, but not quite well enough for anyone to notice. Close, but not close enough to garner attention.
Seventh in the Giro’s stage 16 TT last year, for example. Beat by a handful of big names — Dumoulin, Chris Froome, Tony Martin. Then sixth earlier this month, in stage 9. He’s never even won the US National TT title. His only pro win was at the 2013 Tour of Elk Grove, which, in a relative sense, hardly counts.
Then this: The success that Chris Haga sacrificed for. Today, Chad Haga made good on it.