One of Tom Dumoulin’s team members is a 29-year-old American racer, who is not only an excellent bike rider, but also a coffee connoisseur, mechanical engineering graduate, classical pianist and a bit of a philosopher. Chad Haga is from Texas, lives in Spain and races all over the world for the Team Sunweb bike racing team. He is riding his first-ever Tour de France, which has been a career goal for a long time. He spoke to The Prologue on the Tour’s first rest day, before the major action in the mountains.

Chad Haga riding full gas in the service of Team Sunweb during the People’s Choice Classic 2018 in Australia. Photo: Cor Vos

Rest Day

The Prologue: How was the transfer from the Roubaix to the Alps?

Chad Haga: We flew across the country last night, and that went fine, so today was all about rest.

Did you get a ride in?

Yeah, we did an hour real easy with a little coffee stop at the lake [Annecy], which was nice.

Was the coffee up to your standards?

It was passable. It was from a good machine, at least.

How is your first-ever Tour de France going?

This, for me is the realisation of a career goal and a lifetime’s work just to be here. And it’s going quite well. We reached the first rest day with Tom’s [Dumoulin] GC goals intact, and down only one teammate. Everybody else is healthy and ready for the mountains.

How are you finding the experience so far riding the peloton?

It’s going well, Tom is an established GC rider, so he gets some respect, as do us, the supporting riders. But having said that, every day is big fight. Everybody’s season is focused around this race, so it’s really competitive.

Stressful?

Yes. Because it’s such a significant race, with so many goals riding on it, so nobody wants to screw up.

Chad Haga after Stage 9, before shower.

How did the cobbled section (Stage 9) go for you and Tom?

It went well for me. I was in the breakaway from the beginning and so I was able to be up ahead of all the mayhem for most of the race. Eventually the headwind took its toll and we all ran out of energy.

You were on different bikes for this stage?

Yes, we rode the Giant Defy. The biggest difference for me was with the wheels: the bikes have disc brakes and big, fat, soft tyres for the cobbles. So on the cobbles they were really great, but in the corners they could be a struggle.

A lot of guys seem to have trouble with the normal roads yesterday.

The normal roads were the strangest part, because we’ve been riding 8 days on our normal bikes and we all change, in one go, to other machines. So it was a bit of a culture shock.

Piano Man

You are an accomplished piano player, what is your favourite piece to play?

The one which I enjoy the most, but I play the least, is Hungarian Rhapsody number 2 by Franz Liszt. It’s so much fun, but it’s so difficult and I usually don’t have the time or the energy to keep it sharp, so it falls by the wayside a little bit. But when I’m good at it, it’s a great deal of fun.

How to create a balance in your life, being away from home for so long?

My wife and I make a point of making the most of my time at home and really enjoying it. We also make our home, in Spain, really feel like a home.

Do you regularly return to the States?

No, not really. Mostly twice a year, a break in the summer and in the off season. But this year my break in the summer was cut quite short because I could come to the Tour de France. So this year was more unusual than most.

Brotherly business

[Chad Haga’s brother features on a number of his tweets, making high-end leather goods.]

Your brother is making some really cool bags!

Yes, our dad was a leather worker and he taught us, and my brother Shane really took off with it and I’m incredibly impressed with the skills he’s developing. That’s now his full-time business, making exquisite custom leather products.

Back to biking

What kind of a rider are you, as a support teammate for Tom Dumoulin?

I can climb well for a time, so I’m really useful to Tom in that I can survive most of the early climbs, before the GC riders really start to go wild. So I can support him deep into the stage. I’m also big enough to support him on the flat stages. 

Has your role changed now that Wilco [Kelderman] dropped out of the team?

No, not really. Just because Wilco has gone doesn’t mean I can climb any better.

How does it feel to be going up into the mountains now?

I am really relieved! It’s terrain that I enjoy racing in more, because it’s more about legs than elbows, so it suits me a bit more.

You once said: “Racing is nothing more than almost crashing for hours on end”, is it therefore more selective going uphill?

Yes, once guys get more tired they get a little less aggressive when it comes to positioning.

How is the peloton in this year’s Tour from the inside; are riders behaving themselves?

Partly. It has settled down since the first day, but every day there’s a lot of nerves. Everybody’s afraid to be behind a crash, or in a crash, so it’s still a typical Tour peloton.

How do you find the atmosphere of the Tour de France as you cycle through the country?

There’s a lot of passion for the race in the country, with an almost constant line of spectators along the roadside.

Do you notice a lot of difference between the Tour and the Giro?

The predominant colour among the fans is different, and the language of the signage. But the Giro is also a very beloved race in Italy, so I see a lot of similarities.

Loner philosopher

They say you’re a bit of a philosoper, would you agree with that?

I’m introspective and philosphical in some respects, yes.

Are you a loner, or a more social rider?

I’m definitely more of a loner type. I’m quite introverted and so every day I seek some quiet time after racing to really wind down and recharge for the next day. I do most of my training alone as well.

How does that work with the team?

We have trainers on the team who plan our training programme, and they set out my training for the day, with the number I’m supposed to target if it’s intervals or just an endurance day.

There are a few Dutch members on your team, how are your Dutch language skills coming along?

My Dutch listening is slowly progressing. I’m making no effort in speaking it, but I’m very slowly getting better at following Dutch conversations, if I know the context!