Jack Haig’s Diary: From Australia to South Africa to Strade Bianche

by Jack Haig


It’s Jack Haig’s first year as a professional cyclist and the 22-year-old is now over in Europe after a summer spent racing in Australia followed by a training camp in South Africa. In the latest instalment in his CyclingTips diary, Haig takes us behind the scenes of his past few months, including what he describes as his first “proper” race with Orica-GreenEdge: Strade Bianche.


Well I’ve been super busy since my last blog update. I raced the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, before flying straight to South Africa for two weeks of training camp. Then I had a week and a bit of getting things sorted in Girona and catching up with people and then it was into the start of the European racing. But let’s go back to Cadel’s Race quickly.

The race went quite well for me I think. I wasn’t feeling too good during the first lap of the Geelong circuit but I kind of rode myself into the race and by the second and third lap I was really starting to come good. We were kinda riding for Gerro [Simon Gerrans], but he was happy for the others — including me — to give it a go, get in breaks and follow moves.

It was all back together by the last lap, apart from Peter Kennaugh who put in a very impressive attack on the first climb of the final lap. I managed to be right there at the end to help try and bring Pete back for Mat Hayman and Gerro, but he was to strong and won solo.

The Sun Tour didn’t start too well for me with a pretty slow prologue putting me quite a way down on GC. But it got better on stage 1 where Froome and Kennaugh rode everyone off their wheel up the last climb and stayed away to the finish. I managed to get fifth on the stage.

The next stage was quite windy and some of the other teams made it quite hard in an attempt to try and drop Caleb Ewan. But he was super impressive and was there at the top of all the climbs, including the little climb 7km from the finish where a group of six got away with Caleb and I in it. I fully committed to try and keep the break away because it was almost a guaranteed stage win for Caleb if it did.

Unfortunately I did a bit too much work and in the windy conditions I got dropped with 1km to go and lost some time to the others in the group. I still moved up to fourth on GC though. Caleb ended up winning the stage too, which was super impressive. One of the big goals for the team had been ticked off.

On the last stage, to Arthurs Seat, I was fourth on GC and needed 16 seconds on Jack Bobridge to move to third. Damo Howson was fifth on GC needing 21 seconds to move to third. The plan was for Damo to go earlier on the climb and for me to wait a bit. Damo was really impressive and went early and managed to get a gap straight away and stayed away to the line. He picked up second on the stage and got enough time to move to third overall.

I was pretty happy with how it went and I got some really good feedback from the team about how I rode during the summer, which was nice. I think I have set myself up really well for a good European season.

Straight after the Sun Tour it was off to the airport to fly to Johannesburg, South Africa for a training camp. We stayed at Crystal Springs Resort which is pretty close to Pilgrim’s Rest, a town in the north east of South Africa. We were staying at about 1,700m above sea level and there was lots of climbing nearby (see video above).

We had the whole team there apart from Rob Power and Heppy [Michael Hepburn], which meant 23 riders and about 16 staff at some points. Most days we would spilt into three groups. The first was a climbing group, otherwise known as the Spanish Amarda, with Esteban Chaves, Amets Txurruka, Ruben Plaza and anyone else who wanted a really hard ride. There was a Classics/sprint group and then a ‘volume’ group, which is what I was in. After the whole Australian summer I was keen to have a little bit of a rest and then start building a bit more of a foundation for when I got to Europe.

For me, most days would start with some gym-work. Some days would be with heavy weights, but others would just be stretching, stability and activation work.

I ended up putting a 32T cassette on my bike so I wasn’t grinding at 50rpm everywhere. Almost all of the rides we did had around 3,000m of climbing — there weren’t too many flat roads around.

Most of my rides were just about building volume rather than doing specific efforts. The riding was hard enough where we were so just riding and being at altitude felt like doing efforts. With quite a bit of time until my next stage race — the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya — I didn’t want to hit the intensity too early, particularly after coming straight off a block of racing in Australia.

I’m not sure what I was expecting South Africa to be like, but it was different. Nice, but different. It was cheap to buy fruit on the side of the road or stop at one of the only cafes — Harrie’s Pancakes — to grab a pancake and coffee.

The accommodation was super nice — really relaxing with each apartment having a balcony overlooking an amazing vista. We would sometimes have zebras come close to our front door at night, monkeys would be everywhere at breakfast, and heaps of other animals would be wondering around. It was pretty cool. One day we even managed to get to Kruger National Park and saw a bunch of other African animals.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’ve just finished what I’d call my first “proper” race with Orica-GreenEdge: Strade Bianche. It was a pretty rude introduction to European racing at a pro level, with it being quite hard and cold. Luckily it wasn’t wet.

The first part of the race featured the usual European-style, narrow, twisty town roads, to get out of the Siena, with everyone racing hard as riders tried to get a breakaway together. It’s going to take a couple race days to get comfortable in the fast-moving, sometimes-erratic European bunch again, dodging road furniture that you see only at the last second.

After the breakaway had formed the peloton sat up for a bit and took it easy. Being an Italian race with a lot of Italians taking part there was lots of loud Italian laughter and conversations going on around the peloton. It wasn’t too long before we started racing again though, heading into the first dirt sections. To be honest it didn’t really slow down too much from then as the jostling for position before on and during the dirt sectors kept the peloton’s speed up.

I hadn’t been feeling too good at the start of the race but was I really enjoyed myself as soon as we came onto the dirt sectors. This is one of the few races where my MTB background really does help a lot. Unfortunately, around 70km into the race in the middle of a sector I got a rear flat tyre.

The famous white roads ("strade bianche") of Tuscany.
The famous white roads (“strade bianche”) of Tuscany.

I kinda knew before I said “Jack. Rear flat tyre” over the radio what I was going to hear back from the car. “Jack, we are a long way behind and it’s going to take ages for us to get to you”. So I just rode on the the flat tyre for maybe a kilometre or two, trying to stay in contact with the front group, before I spied a neutral spares car parked on the side of the road and managed to swap in a new wheel.

I was kinda worried at this stage that my race might be over before, having lost contact with the very-fast-moving peloton during the wheel change and with the cars a long way behind. But I managed to catch Filippo Pozzato who had a teammate with him and was obviously pretty keen to get back into the race given we where moving along pretty quick catching and passing rides as they were dropped or had flats of their own.

Finally after what felt like ages we managed to rejoin the peloton on a bitumen section. I was pretty tired after the chase and I fought for as long as possible to try and stay up there to help Durbo [Luke Durbridge] and Jens [Keukeleire], but during sector 6 of dirt ,about 125km in, I ran out of legs and lost contact with the peloton for the last time.

I really enjoyed the racing and will definitely be putting my hand up to do it next year. Hopefully with a bit more luck and experience I will be up there closer to the finish.

That’s probably enough for now. It’s all been pretty busy since I got to Europe and my visa is becoming the biggest issue. But I can go into all of these things in the next blog. Hopefully I have some good races to report on as well.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

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